On the eve of yet another bilateral tour involving two of the most familiar teams in world cricket, it’s time to look back on their storied rivalry. India and Sri Lanka have played each other more than any other two teams in the last decade.
Sri Lanka is slated to play India in three tests, three ODIs and three T20 matches over November and December – with the first test starting on November 16 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. This is the first time Sri Lanka is touring India since 2009 – back when India won 2-0 and achieved the No. 1 test ranking for the first time ever. Since then, India has toured Sri Lanka thrice – drawing one and winning two series in the island nation.
Earlier this year, in fact, India blanked Sri Lanka out in all three formats of the game – a rare achievement. As pointless as their ODI series seem, the test matches haven’t been all that bad. Sri Lanka has been a strong team since 1996, right up to 2015 when Kumara Sangakkara retired. After that, it’s been up and down – they’ve defeated Australia and Pakistan, but lost to India, Bangladesh, and South Africa badly. They look hopeless at times but inspired at others – even becoming the first team to win a test series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in years.
Here are five memorable India vs Sri Lanka test matches:
This wasn’t a ‘memorable’ test match in an exciting way – but noteworthy for its historical and statistical significance. Few fans are likely to forget the numbers. India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 1997 was slated to be one of the biggest of the year, given that Lanka were the World Champions and India were yet to win anything significant abroad all decade. The first test was in Colombo when Mahela Jayawardene made his international debut. But it wasn’t remembered for this small fact. The visitors racked up 537 in two days, declaring with centuries from Navjot Singh Sidhu, new captain Sachin Tendulkar, and ex-captain Mohammed Azharuddin. And then Sri Lanka started to bat for three days straight. Sanath Jayasuriya scored 340 and Roshan Mahanama scored 225 – stitching together a 576-run partnership for the second wicket. This is still the highest for any wicket in test cricket. They put on the highest ever test total – 952/6 declared. It remains a record. Spinners Rajesh Chauhan and Anil Kumble conceded more than 200 runs each, while the third Nilesh Kulkarni went for 195 runs. It was a leather hunt of the highest order – one that neither member from both teams will forget.
Again, not the closest test match, but still very significant. MS Dhoni’s team came to the third test of Sri Lanka’s tour of India with a 1-0 margin. They needed to win this one to do something they had never done before: be ranked No. 1 in test cricket. Sri Lanka put on 399 in their first innings over four sessions. And then came Virender Sehwag at the Brabourne. He scored 284 over two sessions – alone. By the end of the second day, India were already ahead of Sri Lanka’s total, with 9 wickets in hand. It was a stunning assault – he didn’t go more than 12 balls without a boundary. He was dismissed early on the third morning for 293 – one of the all-time great test innings. Dhoni scored a century too and India scored 726 in very quick time at a run-rate of 4.5. Sri Lanka was bowled out for 306 in the second innings – a rare occasion where a team scored more than 700 runs in a test and still lost by an innings. India ascended to the top of the rankings for two years till they became World Champions in Mumbai in 2011.
India, under new captain Sourav Ganguly, and without batsman Sachin Tendulkar for the series, was demolished at Galle in the first test. They entered Kandy for the second test without spearhead Javagal Srinath. Sri Lanka was bowled out for 274 in the first innings by a brave Indian attack led by youngster Zaheer Khan. India responded with a feeble 244 – without a single fifty. In the second innings, India had got the hosts down to 157/9 with both Zaheer and Prasad taking 4 each. Yet, Muttiah Muralitharan hit back with a blazing fifty, stitching together a 64-run last-wicket partnership to frustrate the hosts. Suddenly, a 200-run target became 264 – a tough target to chase, given that India hadn’t crossed 250 in its three innings of the series. But Ganguly played one of his most underrated test innings, combining with warhorse Rahul Dravid and leading India to the target with 7 wickets in hand. Ganguly scored an unbeaten 98, while Dravid perished at 75. The two had ensured honor for the team as they headed into the final test – which they eventually lost with the series. Yet, this was a phenomenal match in an era when India were still learning to win matches abroad. Series would come later.
Virat Kohli’s first test match as full-time test captain was a real eye-opener for the young batsman. It remains one of the few test matches India have lost under his leadership. But this made for perhaps the best test match the two teams have ever contested. This was Kumara Sangakkara’s farewell series. The Lankans were bowled out for 183 in the first innings. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli scored centuries to help India to 375 – a huge lead. When Sri Lanka reached 95/5 in the second innings, it looked all over. Yet, one of the greatest rearguard efforts in cricket meant that Dinesh Chandimal – that of sporadic genius – counter-attacked with 163, taking his team to a phenomenal 367 against all odds. A target of 174 seemed easy, but Rangana Herath came and destroyed India with a 7-wicket haul. India were all out for 112, losing by a shocking 64 runs despite dominating the whole match till the last session. Sri Lanka took a 1-0 lead heading into Sangakkara’s final match. They lost the series 2-1 to Kohli’s men but will remember this one. India wouldn’t lose another test for a long time, but this was a humbling reminder of captaincy for Kohli – who became even more ruthless and hungry ever since.
In Muttiah Muralitharan’s farewell match – the first test of the series – India lost at Galle as the spinner ended on 800 test wickets. The second match was drawn, and India came into the third test hoping to draw the series. The hosts scored 425 in the first innings, but India hit back with a slender 11-run lead, thanks to another quick Sehwag century and some useful middle-order fifties by Laxman and Raina. Sri Lanka were 87/7 in the second innings – with just a 75-run lead and first-innings centurion Thilan Samaraweera at the crease. Again, Sri Lanka’s lower-order resistance came to the fore. Samaraweera had a partnership of 118 with Mendis for the ninth wicket. This set India another tricky fourth-innings target of 257. At 62/4, with Dravid and Sehwag back in the hut, it looked bleak. But India’s favorite crisis man, VVS Laxman, combined with Tendulkar for a 110-run partnership. Tendulkar got out for 54, but Laxman carried on with Raina – finishing on an unbeaten 103, adding to his unique legacy of test-winning batsmanship. India won by 5 wickets, drawing a hard-fought series – as Sri Lanka prepared for life without Muralitharan in earnest.