There have been only 24 instances where a team has not lost a single wicket in a full day’s play in Test cricket. The city of Colombo alone has witnessed four such instances, but the one in 2006 between Sri Lanka and South Africa was just the beginning of a record-breaking partnership between two of the greatest batsmen Sri Lanka’s ever produced. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara’s friendship is well-documented. They played for the national team for 15 years together and not just established a close bond, but also took Sri Lanka to great heights and continued the legacy left behind by the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, who had worked so hard to put the country on the cricketing map.
Even the prolific duo of Ranatunga and de Silva could not achieve what Sanga and Mahela did against South Africa, on this day, in 2006 – they put on 624 against a bowling attack consisting of Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, which is not just a Test record but also a first-class record for any wicket.
South Africa had not won a single Test series in Sri Lanka since 1993 and to further add to their woes, their captain Graeme Smith and vice-captain Jacques Kallis were both ruled out of the tour due to injuries. That paved way for Ashwell Prince to lead the side. Prince therefore became the first-ever non-white to lead the Protea side. Two years before this match, Prince had led South Africa A in limited-overs and a Test series. Not too long ago, he spoke about the quota system engulfing schools in South Africa and that he is not a big fan of it.
"Nobody knows where they stand. Is the black kid included because he's black, and is the white kid not selected because of the quota? We have to give disadvantaged people the chance, but I don't like quotas,” Prince was quoted by The Guardian.
Sri Lanka on the other hand were in top form. They had completed a 5-0 whitewash in the One-Day International (ODI) series against England away and before that won the one-off T20I match and also came from behind to draw the Test series against them. It was safe to say that the Jayawardene-led side were in top form and given that they now were on home soil, South Africa’s task was all the more tough.
It was South Africa who won the toss and decided to bat first on what seemed to be a flat track at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo. However, Dilhara Fernando made the ball talk early on and bowled both openers Andrew Hall (17) and Herschelle Gibbs (19) with the ball nipping back in sharply.
From there South Africa lost wickets at regular intervals and barring AB de Villiers (65 off 72), there wasn’t much to speak about their innings as they were bundled out for just 169 in a little over 50 overs. Fernando and Muttiah Muralitharan picked up four wickets apiece.
The wickets continued to tumble as Steyn got the better of Sanath Jayasuriya (4) and Upul Tharanga (7) in his first two overs, which brought Sangakkara and Jayawardene together. Steyn had a chance to remove Sangakkara early when he was batting on just seven, but Jacques Rudolph dropped a sitter.
With the ball still doing a bit, the duo buckled down and weathered the initial storm of Steyn and Ntini. Later on, they had to contend with Andre Nel, Hall and Nicky Boje as well. They slowly picked up pace and Sangakkara laid into Hall, smashing him for three consecutive boundaries to get to his fifty off just 56 deliveries, while Jayawardene took 72. By the end of the first day, Sri Lanka had reached a commanding position and were 128 for 2, with two set batsmen at the crease.
Batting out the day
The Sri Lankan batsmen wasted little time in settling in on day three, with runs flowing with great ease. The South African bowlers were running out of ideas and within 11 overs of the day had wiped out the deficit. The partnership too had gone well past 150. Sangakkara was going at great pace, and brought up his hundred off just 116 deliveries. However, Jayawardene played a lot more patiently and his century came first ball after lunch.
The partnership showing no signs of slowing down. Sri Lanka brought up their 300 at a rate of more than four runs per over. Jayawardene was slowly catching up with Sangakkara and soon it was turning into a case of the bowlers waiting for the batsmen to make a mistake rather than getting them out. It was Sangakkara again who reached his double hundred first and a few overs later, Jayawardene followed suit, getting to his landmark with a six. Sri Lanka went at run-a-ball from then to the end of the third day’s play with a 316-run lead and the partnership was worth a massive 471.
The historic day
Jayawardene finally went past Sangakkara’s score on the third day and by the looks of things, he had taken it upon himself to score quickly and give Sri Lanka a huge lead. He raced to his 250 – the second of his career and his partnership with Sangakkara was growing in such a manner that with each run, they were breaking records. When they reached 592 for 2 the duo had created the record for the highest partnership in Tests, surpassing countrymen Roshan Mahanama and Sanath Jayasuriya – a feat they achieved in 1999 against India.
Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene were now chasing their triple tons. In the 155th over, they had become the first-ever pair to put on 600 for a wicket in first-class cricket. Few deliveries later, Jayawardene brought up his maiden triple century and Sangakkara ran towards his friend to give him a big hug.
Jayawardene would have reciprocated the same, but Sangakkara edged one to Mark Boucher off Hall for a brilliant 287, which included 35 hits to the fence. His wicket brought an end to a 624-run stand, which even after 14 years, is yet to be replicated.
Jayawardene was finally dismissed for 374, falling one short of Brian Lara’s 375, six short of Matthew Hayden’s 380, and 26 short of the world record that was once again held by Lara.
The only time the record 624-run stand looked to be under threat was when Maharashtra captain Swapnil Gugale (351*) and Ankit Bawane (258*) put on an unbeaten 594 partnership for the third wicket in a Ranji Trophy match against Delhi in Mumbai in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season. Despite having the chance to break Sangakkara and Jayawardene’s record, they decided to declare to force a result. The match eventually ended in a draw.
Sri Lanka put on a mammoth 756 for 5 and went on to win the match by an innings and 153 runs.
However, the second Test at the P Sara Oval went down to the wire as Sri Lanka chased down 352, with just one wicket to spare. Jayawardene once again led the way with a majestic 123 in the chase.
Prince never led South Africa after that series.