On this day in 2003: Buddhist monks try to disrupt a Test match in Colombo

While we all have seen and heard of various instances that have led to the stoppage of a cricket match, few come close to the unusual sight that came to the front during England’s tour of Sri Lanka back in 2003.

In the three-match Test series, the first two encounters at Galle and Kandy ended in sleepy draws. The series was at stake in the third Test at Colombo which commenced on 18th December 2003. Apart from the usual cricketing action that one would expect, there was something unusual that happened on that day. A group of Buddhist monks tried to stop the game from being conducted. Here’s why.

An unfortunate incident

Back in that time, a celebrated Buddhist monk and social reformer, Gangodawila Soma Thera of the Vajiraramaya Maharagama, born in Sri Lanka, had visited Russia to receive an honorary doctorate from the Russian Government. However, he passed away after reportedly suffering a heart attack at St Petersburg on December 12, 2003.

Many believed that the monk did not die a natural death but was rather murdered by Chinese fundamentalists. A four-man commission was appointed for the purpose of the investigation, and despite three of them concluding that it was an unnatural death, the fourth member found no conclusive evidence, which subsequently led to the ceasing of the investigation.

Unhappy with the incident and in the demand of justice, a group of Buddhist monks decided to seek nationwide mourning. After being unable to get their demands fulfilled, they attempted to halt the proceedings between England and Sri Lanka during the third Test of the series at Colombo SSC that day. However, their attempts did not prove fruitful and the Test went ahead.

Sri Lanka thump England

As for the Test, England could only manage 265 runs in the first innings, which included half-centuries from Marcus Trescothick (70) and Andrew Flintoff (77). Responding rather intimidatingly, Thilan Samaraweera (142) and Mahela Jayawardene (134) slammed centuries. Batting for a whopping 182 overs, Sri Lanka declared their innings on 628 for 8.  England folded up for 148 thus which was way short of Sri Lanka’s lead. The victory by an innings and 215 runs led Sri Lanka to clinch the three-match series by 1-0.