There is a joke about how the Indian cricket team calls Sri Lanka over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when it has nobody else to lose against. Currently, the Virat Kohli-led team is 3-0 up in their 5-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, after whitewashing the hapless hosts in the test series.
Over the last few years, it is true that there has been a spate of bilateral India-Sri Lanka cricket series that has overdone their once-storied rivalry. They have played each other very often and sometimes unnecessarily. And while this might have reduced the ‘importance’ of competition between them, it certainly has resulted in the odd timeless performance and a bunch of modern-day ODI records broken. Test cricket has been one-sided between the two for more than a decade now, but limited-overs cricket has escalated – resulting in some rather exciting, and unexpected, matches.
HISTORY: India v/s Sri Lanka
No two teams have played more than the 153 ODI matches that these two have against each other – a world record for any rivalry. India has won 86 of them, while Sri Lanka has won 55 (a majority of which came between 1996 and 2000 – when the Lankans were World Champions). There was a period of 15 months between 1996 and 1997, when the Arjuna Ranatunga-led Lankan team went unbeaten against India for 10 consecutive matches, winning 8 of those (2 no-results). But since the beginning of 2012, India has won 18 matches and lost just 4 to Sri Lanka. This decade has been one-way traffic, which is what made Sri Lanka’s recent shock victory against India in June’s Champions Trophy in England (The Oval) such a miracle. India has won the last six bilateral series contested between the two. They have only lost two bilateral series (1993 and 1997; drawing in 1986 and 2006) in Sri Lanka, winning the rest.
Perhaps the most important match played between the two has been the 2011 World Cup final at The Wankhede in Mumbai. India won their second-ever ODI World Cup in style with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s six off Nuwan Kulasekera.
The 1996 World Cup semifinal at Eden Gardens is perhaps the most significant match. The crowds played spoilsport after the hosts collapsed from 96/1 to 120/8 to the eventual champions. Who can forget Romesh Kaluwitharana stumping Sachin Tendulkar off a gleeful Sanath Jayasuriya and Vinod Kambli’s crying face while walking off the field?
RECORDS: India v/s Sri Lanka
As expected, Sachin Tendulkar holds the record for the batsman with the highest number of runs in India v/s SL matches. He has 3113 runs in 84 matches between the two. Tendulkar’s average against Sri Lanka was 41. His 8 centuries is a record for the two teams too. For the Lankans, it’s Sanath Jayasuriya with 2899 runs in a record 89 matches. Jayasuriya’s average against India is, however, a lowly 35. Mahela Jayawardene has also played 87 India-SL games. Among active players, MS Dhoni has played 64 matches against Sri Lanka, with the highest average of 54. Virat Kohli has played 44 matches, with a stunning average of 52 against Sri Lanka.
Amongst the bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan leads the way with 74 wickets in 63 matches – at a relatively poor average of 32. Zaheer Khan is India’s highest wicket taker against Sri Lanka with 64 wickets, while Ajit Agarkar has the most stunning average of 20 for his 49 wickets in India-SL matches. Interestingly, only one bowler has two five wicket hauls in India-SL ODI history. Robin Singh’s total of 21 wickets came in 23 matches played over four years. Ajantha Mendis, India’s bogey ‘mystery’ spinner, is the only bowler to have 3 four-wicket hauls and one six-wicket haul.
INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES: India v/s Sri Lanka
5. Sanath Jayasuriya (189 off 161 balls), Sharjah, 2000
In the final of the Coca-Cola Champions Trophy at Sharjah, a Saurav Ganguly-led India played a Sanath Jayasuriya-led Sri Lanka in October. Sri Lanka batted first and Jayasuriya played an innings of 189, the second-highest ODI score ever, behind Saeed Anwar’s 194 (also against India). The second-highest score of the match was Russell Arnold’s unbeaten 52 off 62 balls. India’s most economical bowler was Sachin Tendulkar, who gave away just 29 runs in his 10 overs for 1 wicket. Sri Lanka scored 299/5 and then consigned India to one of their most humiliating ODI defeats ever – bowling them out for 54 with Chaminda Vaas snapping up a fifer. India’s highest scorer was Robin Singh (11); there were 10 single-digit scores – a world record and India’s lowest ODI score ever. The margin of defeat – 245 runs. Jayasuriya himself had beaten India by 135 runs.
4. Mahela Jayawardene (103 off 88 balls), Wankhede, 2011
The biggest ever ODI between these two nations was the World Cup final of 2011. After a miserable start aided by Zaheer Khan’s probing spell, Sri Lanka propelled themselves ahead on the back of their two greatest batsmen – captain Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The latter went on, playing one of the most elegant and beautiful innings to score a rare century in a World Cup Final. He finished with a fantastic 103 against the run of play, helping his team to a competent 274. It’s another matter that India chased it down on the back of super innings by Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni, but this doesn’t take away from what has probably been the most eye-catching big-stage innings ever played.
3. Akila Dhananjaya (6-54) and Ajantha Mendis (6-13)
Last week India and Sri Lanka played the second ODI. After a one-sided first match, India restricted Sri Lanka to 236 and was 108-0 after 15 overs. A great stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, Sharma swept blindly to Akila Dhananjaya, opening the gates for the Lankan leg-spinner. He then got KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, Virat Kohli (bowled with a googly), Hardik Pandya (stumped) and Axar Patel in the same spell, reducing India to 131-7. It was up to MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to stage a rescue act. Dhananjaya’s spell was an instant classic and though it again came in a losing cause, it will go down as one of the most skillful spells of spin-bowling in modern-day limited-overs cricket.
But the spell that began India’s weakness against ‘mystery spinners’ and conventional spin was back in 2008. An unknown Ajantha Mendis ran through India’s batting line-up in the final of the Asia Cup. Jayasuriya had again scored a big-stage century before Mendis hijacked India’s collapse with the wicket of Virender Sehwag at 76/1. India figured out Mendis in a year but this match will always haunt a country proud of its batting pedigree.
2. Virat Kohli (133 off 86 balls), Hobart, 2012
India came into the penultimate group stage match of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series, needing a bonus-point win to have any chance of qualifying for the three-match final against Australia. All hopes seemed extinguished when Sri Lanka scored 320. Centuries from Dilshan and Sangakkara meant that India had to overhaul this target in 40 overs. Sehwag and Tendulkar gave them a brisk start, but Virat Kohli, who was still finding his feet in a doomed tour of Australia, captured the world’s imagination with a ‘possessed’ innings. He ended with 133 not out, figuring in two-century partnerships – first with Gautam Gambhir and then with Suresh Raina. India finished it off in a shocking 36 overs, with 7 wickets in hand. Kohli had announced himself to the world with a truly T20-ish win in a match that must have felt like India had done enough to reach the final. But Sri Lanka bravely defeated Australia in the next game to qualify – eliminating a disappointed India and Kohli. But there was no looking back for Virat Kohli’s career.
1. Rohit Sharma (264 off 173 balls), Kolkata, 2014
The best individual India-Sri Lanka performances of all time came three years ago at Eden Gardens. Rohit Sharma was making his ODI comeback after six months away from the game. He had to prove himself immediately, with Ajinkya Rahane finding his feet in the other opener’s spot. He was dropped at third man when he was on 2, and he only scored another 262 runs before getting caught again. In the process, he scored his second double century in one year. He is still the only batsman to have two and finished the game with the highest ODI score of all time – a mammoth 264 with 33 fours and 9 sixes. India finished with 404/5 and won by 150 runs in a one-sided bilateral series at home. But Rohit Sharma had written his name in India-SL folklore for years to come. Only last week, he again scored a century in a tense chase to help India take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in Sri Lanka. All of his sins in the doomed 2012 tour were forgotten with a record that doesn’t look likely to ever be broken.