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Cricket World Cup 1975, Australia vs Sri Lanka: Defiant Lankans stare down Terrifying Thommo

ANALYST
Feature
242   //    02 May 2019, 20:35 IST

Jeff Thomson
Jeff Thomson

Perhaps the most challenging part of cricket is to face up to express fast bowlers. That was even more so before the arrival of helmets and chest and arm guards.

But in the 1975 World Cup, the courageous Sri Lankan batsmen battled against huge odds and emerged with their heads held aloft.

What happened just before the first ball was bowled was not quite cricket, nor was some of the bowling in the latter part of the day. A bunch of placard-carrying political protesters invaded the ground and lay on their backs in the middle of the pitch before play could begin.

Sri Lanka were the minnows of international cricket back then. They were still more than half a decade away from attaining Test status, and nobody expected them to offer more than token resistance to the big boys.

In their first outing in the Prudential World Cup at Old Trafford four days earlier, they had crashed to an ignominious 86 all out in 37.2 overs against Clive Lloyd’s West Indians.

They were now up against the dreaded pair of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Their own meagre bowling resources were not likely to test an Australian line-up comprising the Chappell brothers and Doug Walters. And so it proved.

Alan Turner and Rick McCosker put together a huge opening partnership of 182. Their stroke-play complemented the brilliant sunshine as the Sri Lankans toiled in vain.

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Turner raced to a century before lunch, and though three wickets fell in a heap, Greg Chappell and Walters featured in a 117-run stand for the fourth wicket. Both completed half centuries as Australia crossed the 300-run mark. 

A target of 329 in 60 overs was well beyond the capability of the inexperienced batsmen from the Emerald Isle - or so everyone thought. The drama that began to unfold had even the greatest sceptics thinking.

The diminutive wicketkeeper Ranjit Fernando struck four boundaries as he gave his side a flying start in the company of Sunil Wettimuny. Then Bandula Warnapura helped Wettimuny put on 54 for the second wicket. Sparks began to fly soon after.

Duleep Mendis walked in to take the Sri Lankan cause further. Lillee and Thomson were never known to be charitable towards batsmen at the best of times, and now their pride was hurt by the insolence of a handful of batsmen from a minor cricketing nation.

They let fly, with Thomson in a particularly surly mood. He had already made his intentions clear at the start of the tournament: "Andy Roberts says he is the quickest bowler in the world. Now we shall find out which one of us is really quicker. I make it a rule to win and win well - I hate losing."

Years later, Mendis told Wisden Asia about one of Thomson's snorters: "It was chilling, considering I was wearing just a regular cap. Never before and never since did I face such a delivery. I can still hear in my mind the sound of that ball thudding into Rodney Marsh's gloves."

With Wettimuny and Mendis battling along at 150 for two, Thomson bowled a short one which felled Mendis. He had to retire and was taken to St. Thomas Hospital.

Skipper Anura Tennekoon stood his ground, but it was Wettimuny’s turn to take a battering. He was hit twice in the ribs, and received a painful blow on the foot, forcing him to join his teammate in the same hospital 14 runs later.

The intrepid Lankans were still not ready to throw in the towel. Former captain Michael Tissera joined Tennekoon and the excitement began to build up. At 246 only two wickets had fallen.

Aussie skipper Ian Chappell turned to his own part-time leg-spin, and to the relief of his team-mates claimed both the batsmen in quick succession.

In the end Australia notched up a comfortable victory as the Lankans fell short by 52 runs. But it was a brave effort by the underdogs. They took a physical battering but it was the Aussies who were given a rude shake-up.

David refused to buckle even in the face of a fearsome pounding by Goliath.

Australia: 328 for 5 wickets (60 overs), Sri Lanka: 276 for 4 wickets (60 overs)

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