'These two are deadly dangerous'

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Most teams had already experimented with the idea of opening the innings with a pinch-hitter before the 1996 World Cup, but no one had tried two. Going after as many runs as possible during the first 15 overs, Sri Lanka were able to replace both their conventional openers with batsmen capable of belting the ball cleanly.

Romesh KaluwitharanaIn December 1995, Sri Lanka embarked on their 1995/96 tour to Australia where dramatic changes to their batting order was about to take place. It was a decision sparked by a string of defeats and demoralising batting collapses. When it was time to leave Australia, Roshan Mahanama along with his partner, Chandika Hathurusingha, had lost their positions in the team as openers.

As expected, the Test series on that Australian tour was largely a one-sided affair. The hosts won the first two Tests comfortably - no one expected the third to end any differently. But Jayasuriya’s inclusion in the side in the third Test and his immediate success appeared to bring much needed confidence to a batting order that was struggling to cope with conditions in Australia.

Although they lost the third Test and the Test series 3-0, Jayasuriya had blazed away to a maiden Test century and the little wicket-keeper in the side, Romesh Kaluwitharana, was in tremendous form carting the Australian bowlers to all parts in the middle-order. It appeared to be the motivation Sri Lanka needed going into the Benson & Hedges World Series – their ODI leg of the tour.

With the 1996 World Cup just months away, the Benson & Hedges World Series, which also featured the West Indies, was crucial towards Sri Lanka’s World Cup preparations. That they won the World Cup that year, even after fairing so poorly in Australia, best describes the amazing transformation Ranatunga’s side took after the arrival of their new openers.

It wasn’t until after four straight losses in five matches that Sri Lanka decided to experiment with their openers. They had preferred Roshan Mahanama and Chandika Hathurusingha to partner Jayasuriya at the start of the series.

When Kaluwitharana was finally promoted to open with Jayasuriya, the visitors were playing Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in match-nine of the World Series. Helping his side surpass Australia’s total of 213/5 with ease, the free scoring Kaluwitharana smashed 77 runs off 75 balls.

After making just 15 runs in his three previous innings as opener, Mahanama was now demoted to the middle-order where he found immediate success; a half century in his new role helped Sri Lanka cross the finish-line. Sri Lanka registered three successive wins in the series thereafter.

Despite losing the series to the hosts, reaching the final in a tri-nation tournament in Australia was a first for the islanders - the transformation from being international cricket teams’ punching bag to world champions had begun.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Ka;uwitharanaBut it was still not beyond Sri Lanka’s batting line-up to collapse in an embarrassing heap, losing matches that they were on track to win. Kaluwitharana’s promotion up the order helped in more ways than one, in that regard. It allowed the experienced Mahanama to slide down the batting line-up, where he looked more at ease than against the new ball, to bolster Sri Lanka’s middle-order.

Sri Lanka’s coach during this time, Dav Whatmore, credited team manager, Duleep Mendis, for coming up with the strategy.

“It wasn't my idea,” Whatmore said. “I have to tell you that it was born from Duleep Mendis, who came up with that thought before the [1996] World Cup, in Australia, where we were playing in the World Series there and immediately I loved it.”

“Kaluwitharana, having been promoted from number seven, where he was a very clean hitter of the ball, but would always get caught in the out-field, was now in a position to play his shots and hit it crisply with a lot of vacant territory out of the 30-yard circle.

“He had two man-of-the-match awards immediately after he was promoted. It was great to see opposition teams totally flummoxed with that sort of tactic.”

By mid-1996, fans had grown accustomed to hearing veteran commentator, Tony Greig, describe the pair as “deadly dangerous” when they strode out of the dressing rooms and into the middle to open batting for Sri Lanka. “Watch out! These two are deadly dangerous,” Greig would say.

The attacking brand of cricket they played was fraught with risk, which meant that, individually, they struggled to become consistent run scorers. Their task, however, was to score as many runs as possible during the first 15 overs, which on occasions resulted in them selflessly sacrificing their wickets as they attempted to increase the run-rate for the team’s cause.

Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya opened batting for Sri Lanka on 105 occasions, scoring 3230 runs at an average of 31.05. They made six century partnerships and on 19 occasions the pair scored between 50 and 99 runs.

More importantly, the emergence of their partnership sparked a revolution and the ODI game morphed into what it is today. After the 1996 World Cup, teams looked to score a bulk of their runs during the first 15 overs. In the past, the focus was mainly on conserving wickets against the new ball.

© Island Cricket


Ryan's picture
Member since:
20 November 2008
Last activity:
1 year 16 weeks

Ah! Good read Hilal. It took me back years. Kalu never flourished as he did that December in Australia. He struggled for form during the 1996 World Cup.

Confused's picture

Good read but as Ryan states, Kalu never did well after the initial experiment in Australia. In fact, I cannot think of another sportsman who rode on the back of another player's success as much as Kalu did, courtesy of Sanath. One of their 19 fifty plus partnerships of course was the game in Singapore where the pair put on 70 and Kalu was first out - for a duck!! Quite an incredible stat that!! This was the match in which Sanath scored the fastest ever half century off 17 balls. Kalu actually scored only 2 100s despite opening in more than 100 innings which is as poor as it gets for an opener. His average was in the mid 20s and his strike rate was below 80 and yet there was an uproar when he was dropped too!!

Kalu's Test career followed the same pattern where after scoring an amazing century on debut, he never lived up to his true potential thereafter. He seemed to me like one of those seriously talented but seriously brainless players.

James Jesudasan's picture
Member since:
27 November 2009
Last activity:
6 years 3 weeks

Its good that you have focused on how things changed for Sri Lanka after Kalu began opening the innings. You are right about Mahanama. He even made 225 putting on a world record with Jayasuriya after as a middle order bat. That move down helped him immensely.

Stormy's picture
Member since:
15 January 2011
Last activity:
6 hours 39 min

Yes this changed everything but more than anything it was SL expressing themselves on the cricket world stage and some amazing things happened on and after that Aus tour. SL were down and out in a corner surrounded by controvesy over Murali and Ranatunge's ball tampering and the general arrogance of the then Aus team and media and looked for all money to be the same old easy beats but their destiny was about to change and with it the way the game was played forever. The outrageous strokeplay at the top of the order was beyond imagination for the rest of the world who simply didnt know how to react and when they caught up SL had carved a place in the history of the game and produced who was probably the most destructive force in one day cricket in Jayasuriya.

Kalu was less successful but was the front line in the experiment and Jayasuriya learnt from Kalu and took things to a new level. Kalu seemed to be hell bent on wild stroke play where else Jayasuriya was measured - almost strange to say that but his success was due to being more measured than Kalu.

There was and will be many more landmarks in the game but these two will go down in history as the wild guys from a small Island who changed the game with turbo charged starts at the top of the order with outrageous strokeplay.

(Last edited by Stormy on January 27, 2011 - 02:06)
KaZsa's picture
Member since:
3 January 2011
Last activity:
1 year 2 days

A wonderful read indeed.
Although everyone is barking that Aussies changed the game of one day cricket,it is the Lankans who actually did it.Aussies just perfected it.After 15 long years,the Lions are ready to embark the glory they created once again.This time we have the perfect blend to lift the cup.
About Kalu,I think we have to consider his wicket keeping abilities as well when we evaluate him.His record might not be perfect.But I think that is because he sacrificed some of his talent for Sri Lanka by not being selfish and being adventurous.There are players in the world who have flawless records,but sometimes they turn out to be selfish players who put themselves above the country they represent.I think Kalu's efforts should always be appreciated because of the will power he showed to take this country to greater heights as a cricketing nation.

sujithl143's picture
Member since:
16 April 2009
Last activity:
4 years 13 weeks

WOW!! great post Hilal...
Very disappointed with "Confused"'s comment over Kalu.
In those days Wicket keeper is just a wicket keeper we do not expect them to score 50s or 100s.
However Kalu ( & Jayasuriya ) changed the game by scoring more than 90 runs from 1st 15 overs which is somthing new to the game.
Today v call it as powerplays!
Please don't try to compare todays game with their era....
Kalu changed this game not only with his power hitting but also with his great wicketkeeping skills...he encouraged his team mates from behind the stumps always.
And thats why people still love him and love him in a very special way...

Paul's picture

Long live Kalu and Jayasuriya!

Ruwan K's picture

This year we are not doing anything special but Herath's Carrom Ball gonna make history! Watch out!

Pal Stein's picture

Tribute to the deadly dangerous ones.


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