CWC 1979: Naive India stunned by minnows Sri Lanka

The belligerent Duleep Mendis smashed the Indian bowlers all around Old Trafford.
The belligerent Duleep Mendis smashed the Indian bowlers all around Old Trafford.

Sri Lanka were only associate members of the ICC - then known as International Cricket Conference - while India were one of the major cricketing nations. Sri Lanka, though, had distinguished themselves often by their gritty performances in their limited appearances in the international arena. India, on the other hand, had shown remarkable naivete in the limited-overs game on a number of occasions.

A stunning upset could not be ruled out as the sub-continental neighbours took the field at Old Trafford in this rain-marred match. The English had still not reconciled to the idea of holding sporting events on Sundays, so this one-day game became a two-day encounter played over three days.

After a delayed start of three-and-a-half hours, India put Sri Lanka in to bat. The Lankans made a determined start, and Sunil Wettimuny and Roy Dias put on 96 runs for the second wicket in 25 overs. The belligerent Duleep Mendis consolidated the position with a superb 64 off a mere 57 balls inclusive of 3 huge sixes besides a boundary.

Mohinder Amarnath did a fine job, bowling his gentle medium-pacers. He along with the great left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi, who was on his last international tour, helped check the Sri Lankans. Still, an asking-rate of almost four runs per over was formidable considering the notoriously fickle Manchester weather.

The Indians, who were able to put bat to ball only on Monday, did not plan their run-chase well. Even though they made a solid start, and the top four batsmen made useful contributions, the progress was slow. By lunch they had scored only 117 runs off 35 overs for the loss of two wickets.

After the break the talented leg-spinner Somachandra de Silva destroyed the middle-order. He was ably supported by Stanley de Silva, and five crucial wickets fell for only 45 runs as India lost their way completely. Medium-pacer Tony Opatha returned to mop up the tail. It was a great triumph for Sri Lanka by 47 runs with almost six overs to spare.

It acted as a great spur in their efforts to secure full membership of the ICC. They got their reward two years later when they received Test status.

The inconsolable Indians had only themselves to blame. This was the first time a Test-playing nation had been beaten by an associate member in the World Cup. It left India win-less in their three matches in the 1979 Prudential Cup, sharing the dubious distinction with novices Canada.

India had hitherto been very slow to learn the art of playing the one-day game. Perhaps this reverse was the proverbial blessing in disguise as they seemed to be shaken enough to put in much improved performances at the turn of the decade. Certainly, four years hence there was a different tale to tell.

Sri Lanka: 238 for 5 wickets (60 overs), India: 191 all out (54.1 overs).

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Edited by Aditya Joshi
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