On a flat wicket at the R Premadasa Stadium, in Colombo, Roshan Mahanama and Sanath Jayasuriya made India pay with a huge partnership that took some beating. It eventually resulted in Sri Lanka registering the highest-ever team total in Test cricket - 952 for 6 – a record that not just stands even 23 years later, but something that no team has ever even come close to replicating it since.
Sri Lanka as it is, had a huge task on their hands after India, thanks to centuries from Navjot Singh Sidhu (111), Sachin Tendulkar (143) and Mohammad Azharuddin (126), had piled on 537 for 8 after batting out nearly six sessions. However, at the end of day two, India would have been the happier side after picking up a wicket off the final delivery of the day as debutant Nilesh Kulkarni got the better of Marvan Atapattu for 26 – making him the 12th cricketer and the first Indian to pick up a wicket off his first ball in Test cricket.
Unfortunately for India, that’s as good as things got for them for the rest of the match as Mahanama and Jayasuriya sent the fielders on a leather hunt, thereby completely denying India a chance of getting a sniff.
Jayasuriya was in wonderful form leading up to the match. He had scored three fifties and a century in the 10 innings prior to this match, while Mahanama was struggling for form, having struck just a fifty from his 10 innings ahead of the game. Sri Lanka however persisted with him and on paper they looked like a formidable side, with youth and experience well stacked across all departments.
Jayasuriya and Mahanama came into the third day with the aim of firstly, building a steady partnership and taking Sri Lanka closer to a score where they can avoid the follow-on. Jayasuriya already had a good game with the ball as he got the better of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Rajesh Chauhan. Now it was time for him to shine with the bat.
By the time the day ended, the Indian bowlers and the fielders were gasping for air as both batsmen barely put a foot wrong and as a result reached a healthy 387 for 1. Sri Lanka had avoided the follow-on and the following day, their aim would have been to wipe out the deficit. Jayasuriya and Mahanama were batting on 175 and 115 respectively.
It was only the second instance wherein a Sri Lankan pair had batted out the whole day without losing a wicket. Asanka Gurusinha and Ranatunga had achieved this feat against Pakistan in 1986 at P Sara Oval, Colombo. Just four kilometres away at the Premadasa, Jayasuriya and Mahanama had replicated that.
The Indian contingent would have hoped for some respite on the penultimate day of the Test, but to no avail. The Sri Lankan duo continued to pile on the misery as they went on to bat out yet another day and the score at the end of the day was an outrageous 587 for 1. Jayasuriya had registered the first-ever triple ton by a Sri Lankan batsman and Mahanama had reached his highest Test score. The partnership was already worth 548, which was the first-ever 500-plus partnership in Tests.
On the final day of the Test, they had a chance to register the highest first-class partnership, which was set by Gul Mohammad and Vijay Hazare in a match between Baroad and Holkar in 1946-47 when they put on 577.
Jayasuriya was not far away from the world record individual score in Tests which was looming at 375. He needed just 50 more runs to break it. Spectators from all around the country had gathered at the stadium to witness the ‘Matara Mauler’. With the fate of the match more or less assured, it was now going to be only about records that Jayasuriya and Mahanama had the chance to break. The spectators’ wait was to end in disappointment though, as Mahanama was trapped in front by Anil Kumble for 225. The partnership was broken at 576, which was a new Test record for any wicket, well ahead of 467 set by Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe against Sri Lanka in 1991 in Wellington. That match is more famously remembered for Crowe’s 299.
The Jayasuriya-Mahanama partnership also fell two runs short of breaking the highest first-class partnership. But, there was still a chance for Jayasuriya to break Lara’s record. However, two deliveries later, the Sri Lankan opener received a ball with some extra bounce and the catch went straight to the silly point fielder to give Chauhan his first wicket. Jayasuriya was dismissed for 340. He had managed to avoid the follow-on all by himself!
One thought the declaration would come then. But Ranatunga (86) decided to have fun and make India toil further. He built a 175-run stand with Aravinda de Silva (126). Once he was dismissed, de Silva and debutant Mahela Jayawardene (66) put on a further 131 for the fifth wicket, during which they had broken the record for the highest-ever Test total of 903 for 7 which was set by the Wally Hammond-led England team in 1938. It took just under six decades to surpass that.
Even after de Silva was dismissed, Sri Lanka did not declare, which was a clear indication that they wanted to bat out the rest of the day. India had used as many as eight bowlers – only Azharuddin, Sidhu and wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia did not have the opportunity to have a crack with ball in hand. At the end of the day’s play, Sri Lanka had reached 952 for 7. Since then, the closest anyone has gone to that score was when Pakistan scored 765 for 6 against Sri Lanka in 2009 in Karachi.
In the second Test of the series, Jayasuriya was dismissed for 199. He failed to join the likes of Hammond and Don Bradman, who have scored a triple ton and a double century in the same series.
Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara broke the record set by Jayasuriya and Mahanama to put up a 624-run stand against South Africa in 2006, which till date is not just the highest Test partnership but also the highest stand in first-class cricket. In the same match, Jayawardene broke Jayasuriya’s record and scored 374 and still holds the record for the highest individual score for a Sri Lankan in Tests.
Kulkarni played just two more Tests and picked up one more wicket – that of Matthew Hayden in 2001.
Mahanama’s form dipped once again after this match having scored just one fifty from 14 innings post that effort. While his Test career came to an end in March 1998, he last played for Sri Lanka in the 1999 World Cup.