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Rewind to 1998: When coloured-clothing ODIs came to England


England_first_ODI_South_Africa_Sri_Lanka_CricketIt has been over 20 years since limited-overs international cricket played in coloured clothing made its maiden appearance in England, with a single round-robin tri-series that involved the hosts along with South Africa and Sri Lanka, the two touring sides of the summer. The Emirates Triangular Tournament began on August 14, 1998, which was just four days after England had beaten South Africa by 23 runs in the deciding fifth Test at Headingley to win the series 2-1.

This was also the first time that England was hosting an ODI tri-series, a concept that had long been adopted elsewhere. The World Series in Australia was by now an established tradition, while sub-continental teams flourished in the myriad such tournaments that dotted the calendar, at venues ranging from Colombo to Sharjah to Singapore. Triangulars in coloured clothing were very much in vogue, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had finally accepted it.

Moreover, the 1999 World Cup was to be played in England (with a few fixtures in Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands), and the stipulations of the tournament required the games to be of 50 overs per side and played in coloured clothing with a white ball. However, unlike the 1992 and 1996 editions, there were no floodlit games in the 1999 World Cup. The first day-night ODI in England would be played only in 2000, between the West Indies and Zimbabwe at Bristol.

Until 1998, ODIs in England had always been bilateral affairs - sponsored by Prudential from 1972 to 1982 and by Texaco from 1984 to 1998 - and all such series (except for one, against Pakistan in 1992, which had five matches) consisted of no more than three matches each. Needless to say, these were played in white clothing and with a red ball, and until 1995, featured 55 overs per side. The last such instance was in May 1998, when South Africa beat England 2-1.

The Sri Lankans, under the leadership of the wily Arjuna Ranatunga, arrived in England with a point to prove to the ECB. Despite being the defending World Cup champions, they were not considered enough of an attraction to warrant a separate bilateral ODI series and more than a solitary Test match on the tour. The first game of the tri-series, at Trent Bridge, saw Sri Lanka pitted against Hansie Cronje’s South Africans, who were smarting from the reversal in the Tests.

The dynamic opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, who had been instrumental in Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup victory with their no-holds-barred approach to batting in the first 15 overs, was at it again after Cronje elected to field first. Their partnership fetched 85 in just 11 overs, with both cashing in on pedestrian bowling from the South African pacers. Steve Elworthy particularly came in for harsh treatment, leaking 43 runs in his five overs.

To South Africa’s relief, the openers perished in quick succession. Kaluwitharana (33) sliced Jacques Kallis to Cronje at cover, while Jayasuriya (36) was caught behind by Mark Boucher off Allan Donald. Donald added the key scalp of Aravinda de Silva, before Marvan Atapattu (40) and Ranatunga (58) put on 80 for the fourth wicket. Sri Lanka were 224/5 in the 43rd over, but Cronje (2/29) and Shaun Pollock (3/54) combined to restrict them to 258 with 13 balls unused.

A total of 39 extras, including 16 wides, did not help the South African cause, and neither did a woeful start to the chase. Pramodya Wickramasinghe effectively delivered the knockout punch with the new ball, finishing with a tidy return of 3/20 from seven overs that later gave him the Man of the Match award. Ranatunga did not take the field after the interval due to a knee injury, but he did not have to worry much, what with his deputy de Silva calling the shots just as well.

Wickramasinghe set the tone in the first over, as he induced Gary Kirsten to drag the second ball on to his stumps without a run on the board. The fast bowler added to his kitty with the wickets of Kallis and Michael Rindel, while Suresh Perera castled Daryll Cullinan at the other end. South Africa were now tottering at 32/4, a perilous situation that was further exacerbated with the departure of Cronje, who was out leg-before to Muttiah Muralitharan to make the score 66/5.

Pat Symcox (58), promoted to number five, and Jonty Rhodes (54) reignited their team’s hopes with a rapid sixth-wicket stand of 100. But their charge was halted by the off-spin of Kumar Dharmasena, who accounted for both batsmen in consecutive overs. With defeat an inevitability, the last pair of Pollock and Donald hung around for more than nine overs to add 23 before the latter was bowled by Dharmasena (3/41) to seal Sri Lanka’s 57-run win with an over to spare.

Intriguingly, Ranatunga was summoned by the match referee after the game for breaching the International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations. His offence was to use a bat emblazoned with the sponsor, “Sam’s Chicken and Ribs”, instead of that of a bat manufacturer. Nevertheless, his team went into their second game, against England at Lord’s, as a buoyed unit. While the turnout at Trent Bridge was a decent 7,505, Lord’s saw a packed house, estimated to be above 25,000.

England started the tri-series positively, riding on Graeme Hick’s unbeaten 86 to post 247, a total that proved good enough to beat Sri Lanka by 36 runs. In turn, England lost to South Africa in the last league game at Edgbaston - chasing 245, the hosts needed 198 to make it to the final on the basis of net run rate. Though they went down by 14 runs, they ensured a repeat match-up with Sri Lanka in the final at Lord’s on August 20. However, they could not repeat the result.

Another crowd of over 25,000 greeted the teams at the Mecca of cricket, and a determined Sri Lanka were served by two brilliant performances in their quest to get even with their fellow men in blue. England’s fantastic start - an opening stand of 132 between Nick Knight (94) and Mike Atherton (64) - was nullified by Muralitharan, who wrought havoc with a haul of 5/34. England ultimately reached 256/8, nine more than what they had defended in the league game against Sri Lanka.

But this time, England ran into the solidity of Atapattu. Coming in after Jayasuriya had fallen for a duck off the second ball, Atapattu went on to score an unbeaten 132, adding a match-winning 138 for the second wicket with Kaluwitharana (68) on the way. In the end, it was a rather convincing win - by five wickets with 17 balls remaining. Atapattu lost out to Muralitharan for the Man of the Match honour, but was named the Man of the Series for his tally of 178 runs.

Muralitharan’s effort was a precursor to what was to follow in the next few days. Not content with their ODI triumph, Sri Lanka thumped England by ten wickets in the one-off Test at The Oval. In a dazzling display that fast-tracked his march to the pantheon of greats, Muralitharan recorded figures of 16/220 (7/155 and 9/65), and along with Jayasuriya, who struck a belligerent 213, demonstrated that the Emerald Islanders were not just adept at the limited-overs game.

The tournament expanded in 2000, with NatWest taking over as sponsors. Each team played the other two thrice now, and the annual three-way battle had its fair share of memorable moments, until the return to bilateral series from 2006. Going by the monstrous totals piled up in some of the games in the last three years, ODI cricket in England has transformed drastically since the late nineties, so much so that the 1998 Triangular now seems to be from another era altogether.

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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