Sunday, March 16, 2014

Two Match Saving Innings of 96 each and the Ramanayakes

I had a chance to watch the 135th Battle of the Blues, the annual Royal-Thomian encounter, only on its third and final day. Royal started the day in dire straits and needed a royal innings to save the day and the match. Hashen Ramanayake, the versatile all-rounder who is a key player with both bat and ball was there to play the anchor role. He was amply supported by all the batsmen on the last day, especially Randev Pathirana, who made sure that he held his wicket like the rock of Gibraltar. The day ended, with Royal earning all the glory of the third day.
Hashen Ramanayake (R) and Randev Pathirana made a key partnership for Royal (Rukshan Abeywansha)

Before Pathirana was run out for 23 from 154 balls, it was slow going for Royal. But captain Chamika Karunaratne who replaced Pathirana, speeded things up. When he was eventually dismissed for a well made 35 off 52 balls faced, Ramanayake was inching towards his century. In came wicketkeeper batsman Thiran Dhanapala, who had been part of the epic 9th wicket partnership that had helped Royal to reach a respectable total in the first innings. He started hammering Thomian bowling all over the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) ground.

However, when Ramanayake was on 96, Dhanapala scored a boundary, which proved to be sadly unfortunate. Thinking that Ramanayake had scored it, some fans came to the middle of the pitch. By the time the fans were made to leave the ground, it was getting dark. Ramanayake was dismissed a few bowls later for 96, and the match ended as the fans entered the ground once again.

That night, hinking about the innings, I was suddenly reminded of another innings of 96, which I saw 22 years ago on TV. It was the 1992 Australian tour of Sri Lanka, and as a very small kid, it was the first tour by a foreign test cricket team that I remembered vividly. We had handed over the first test on a platter to the Aussies at SSC and were deprived of a win in the second test by rain. The third test was played at Moratuwa.

In a match frequently hindered by rain on the last three days, the Aussies had put on a first innings lead of 63 runs in this match. In the second innings, the Aussie top order was bundled out very cheaply by Sri Lankan pace bowlers and soon they were four wickets down for just nine runs. When Dean Jones lost his wicket, they were still at 60. Another wicket or two at that crucial time would have almost been curtains for them. But Aussie captain Alan Border was joined in the middle by one of the most colourful of the Aussie players, Greg Matthews. After Border was dismissed, he and Ian Healy made a superb eighth wicket partnership which deprived any chance of victory for the Sri Lankans. By the last session of the fifth day, the match had lost any meaning. Australia played the game till the end so that Mathews could score his century. But, when he was on 96, Matthews was clean bowled and the match ended there.

Yesterday I remembered Greg Matthew’s 96 for another reason. It was Champaka Ramanayake, Hashen’s father, who bowled Matthews.

Cricket, as they say, is a strange game.

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