Reminiscing homicidal bowling blitz of Jeff Thompson against Sri Lanka at the Oval in June 1975
It was the seventh match in the first ICC Prudential World Cup encounter how well Sri Lankan batsmen demonstrated grit and perseverance “never say die” attitude against the vicious bowling of the fastest bowling duo then Jeff Thompson and Dennis Lilee sans helmets. The defiant and daring batting of opener Sunil Wettimuny who made a valiant retired hurt 53.Ranjith Fernando 22, Bandula Warnapura 31, Duleep Mendis 32 retired hurt,Anura Tennakoon (capt) 48,Micheal Tissera 52 all contributing to score 276 runs for the loss of only 4 wickets in the then allotted 60 overs. Though Sri Lanka lost by a modest margin of 52 runs we were held in high ebb in world cup series memories.
Speedster Jeff Thomson bowled his full quota of 12 overs while Dennis Lilee bowled 10 from his quota. Opener Sunil Wettimuny took many blows demonstrating bravery took blows but stood vertical, A video confirmed Wettimuny had been struck six painful blows from Thompson on the body, twice struck on the inner thigh once struck on the hip bone but still he stood tall, yet Thompson had not been able to get his wicket Wettimuny had asserted, but he battled on until he retired hurt scoring 53 having faced 102 balls with seven fours.
It needs to be emphasized that Player for player, the Australians were the strongest side in the World Cup. The Chappell brothers, Doug Walters, Rick McCosker,Allan Turner, Ross Edwards, with the bat. Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Gary Gilmour, Max Walker, Ashley Mallett with the ball..
In this ICC Prudential WC encounter skipper Anura Tennekoon decided to send the opposition in. Was it because of some shrewd tactic? Or was his decision inspired by the proposition of confronting Lillee and Thomson on a fresh morning wicket?
In any case, the embarrassment appeared all but official when openers McCosker and Alan Turner put on 182, the latter getting 101 in quick time. After the wily leggie Somchandra de Silva got rid of both, and Ian Chappell had fallen early, Greg Chappell and Doug Walters cracked half-centuries 50 and 59 respectively. The 328-run total for five wickets was colossal for the era, even in a 60-over match.
And then Lillee and Thomson charged in. The Sri Lankans had never seen such pace like that.
Wicketkeeping opener Ranjit Fernando compiled an 18-ball 22 before Thomson sprawled his stumps. Bandula Warnapura joined Wettimuny and the score was pushed along wisely, particularly Mallett was being milked for lots. Walters, Walker, Lillee and Greg Chappell, all were being scored off with relative eloquence.
Warnapura did pay the price of being a little too exciting. He was stumped off Mallett for 31. But the scoreboard showed a healthy 84 by then. And the new man at the crease, Duleep Mendis, trickled class.
In the 32nd over, Sri Lanka were on 150 for 2. An unimaginable surprise was well within the scope of distinctive prospects, Ian Chappell was frantic.
He decided to put the homicidal duo back on. Lillee ran in from the Vauxhall End. more impactfully, in the real physical sense, Thommo galloped in with the pavilion at the rear of him.
According to Alan Gibson, the ball that pounded Mendis out was not really a bouncer, but a short ball aimed at the body. Thomson later claimed, “They were only little fellas, so you couldn’t call it a bouncer exactly”
In any case, the ball struck Mendis on the head, and he went down as if was fired. As he came around, the future Lankan captain muttered, “Oh my God, I’m going.” Later, he declined making this remark.
As the diminutive batsman left for the hospital, the crowd booed Thomson comprehensively. Not that it affected the fast bowler. Wettimuny was now struck on the left instep. As the batsman hobbled in pain, Thomson proved to be the soul of the spirit of cricket. “Look, it’s not broken, you weak ‘bastard’. But if you’re down there next over, it will be.”
The score had grown to 164, for 2 wickets plus an injured Mendis, when Wettimuny faced Thomson again. The ball struck once more on Wettimuny’s instep. The opener, who had endured all the blows valiantly till now, jumped around in intense anguish. Evidently spurred on by teammates, Thomson picked the ball up and threw down the stumps with the batsman wriggling in pain outside the crease. But none of his colleagues pleaded with him. In his colourful language, he recalls, They all sat or stood there with their arms folded. They’d done me stone cold.”
However, that was it for Wettimuny in any case. He limped half the way back to the pavilion but had to be chaired off subsequently. Soon, he was on his way to join Mendis at the hospital. Yet, the Sri Lankans were not really giving up without a fight. Captain Tennekoon and the steady Michael Tissera added 82 valiant runs, before both were dismissed by Ian Chappell when the asking rate had become too high. Tissera hit a stylish half-century and although it was a lost cause by the time the two men got out, there was none of the anticipated embarrassment.
Sri Lanka finished with a very admirable 276 for 4 lost my only 52 runs but the bravery of the batsmen will be remembered for a long time.At the hospital, Wettimuny and Mendis encountered a London cop, who had just got to know that an Australian cricketer had hurt and hit two Sri Lankan men. After being told that it was Jeff Thomson, this guardian of the law asked the cricketers whether they would like to press charges.
The two injured men were discharged the next day. Wettimuny walked on crutches for a while, and Mendis had to miss Sri Lanka’s last match because of a persisting headache. The skipper of the Sri Lanka team then Anura Tennakoon had this to say replying to my e mail:
Hi Sunil, this was a memorable match captured very well by the author. The 1st
over I faced off Thomson was frightening as I saw the ball only when it passed my head ( no helmet ). Lucky to have survived to tell this tale. Rgds AnuraT
Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane