In international sport one must never underestimate the opposition, never be over confident. And if there is one example in Indian cricket of how this approach can end in disaster it was the Test series in Sri Lanka in August – September 1985.

It was just over three years since Sri Lanka played their first Test and not unexpectedly they had been at the receiving end in most of the matches. Out of the 12 Tests they had played till then they had lost eight and drawn four. Given this background India were expected to have it easy in the three Test series but as it turned out the tourists were in for a rude shock. They lost the second Test and with it the series. As if this was not bad enough their image of world one day champions also took a beating when they lost an ODI and the three match series was shared.

The traumatic trip was a result of the Indians’ own making. They seemed to think that the tour would be a picnic and did not prepare seriously enough. In fact till about a fortnight before their departure it was not clear whether the tour would be on. The unsettled political situation in Sri Lanka made most believe that the tour would be called off. And when it was decided to go ahead with the trip the Indians found themselves landing in Colombo on the eve of their opening match.The lack of preparation told against them.

In a way the BCCI was as much responsible for the team’s failures as the players. The tour was accepted largely as a token of appreciation of Sri Lanka’s support in the bid to stage the World Cup in the sub continent in 1987. It was undertaken with little consideration for the fact that the season was yet to get underway in India. As a result most members of the team had not played any cricket at all for months. There was not even a camp to tune up the players physically as well as mentally and at the end of a disappointing tour skipper Kapil Dev himself conceded the need for one.

Compounding the error was the team’s almost casual approach. The team was smug in the belief that it would romp home in the one day matches and could not be beaten in the Tests. After all India was the world champion in the shorter version of the game and the batting might was proof against any setbacks in the Tests. The players could not be shaken out of their complacency even after they had fared badly in the two first class games at the start and came close to losing the first ODI. They came under tremendous pressure once they found the going tough.

The Indians should have been more careful after coming close to losing the first Test. They were bowled out for 218 to which Sri Lanka replied with 347. In the second innings a tenacious 406-minute unbeten 98 by Dilip Vengsarkar allied to the loss of nearly two hours play due to rain on the final day saw India wriggle out. |They were all out for 251 and Sri Lanka requiring 123 off eleven overs ended at 61 for four.

The narrow escape should have sounded a warning to the Indians but they were again complacent in the second game which Sri Lanka won by 149 runs for their first victory in Tests. The hosts scored 385 while the Indians were restricted to 244. In the second innings Sri Lanka declared at 206 for three leaving the Indians just over a day to get 348 for victory. The tourists folded up for 198.

India had a chance to square the series in the final Test but they could not press home the advantage. They led off with 249 and then bowled out Sri Lanka for 198. India then declared their second innings at 325 for five leaving Sri Lanka to get 377 for victory At 34 for three on the fourth evening Sri Lanka were facing defeat but a gallant 216-run fourth wicket partnership between Roy Dias (106) and skipper Duleep Mendis (124) steered them to safety. Sri Lanka ended with 307 for seven giving them not only an honourable draw but also their first victorious rubber. The series remains one of the worst humiliations in Indian cricket.