Since making their first appearance in 1975, Sri Lanka have come a long way in the international cricket scene, particularly in the last 15 years. They also single-handedly revolutionised one-day cricket with their aggressive batting style, evidenced by their unbeaten run in the 1996 Cricket World Cup, eventually taking the trophy. However, the Sri Lankan team’s impact has been comprehensive, holding the record for the highest total scored in all forms of the game (test, ODI and twenty20). Such achievements, along with contributing some of the finest players ever to grace a cricket field like Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya, makes them one of the most significant cricketing
nations in the world.
Cricket was brought to the nation when it was colonised by the English. The first recorded cricket match was played in the country as far back as 1832. Although the country, then known as Ceylon, was playing first class cricket in the 1930s, it was in the 1975 inaugural World Cup that they made their international debut. They were humbled here, losing to the West Indies by 9 wickets. They did, however, turn heads at the same tournament with an excellent display in their match against Australia.
They were finally given full Test status in 1981. Unfortunately, in their first ever match, they lost to England in Colombo by seven wickets and their first victory only came in 1985, taking a match at home against India. This was a remarkable feat, as the Indian team was quite a formidable one, being the defending World Cup champions at the time. Sri Lanka soon went on to establish itself as a cricketing nation.
Test match achievements
After their famous victory, the Sri Lankan team went through a dry patch for the rest of the decade. However, they came back strongly in the 1990s, producing some amazing wins against other, already established teams.
Having emerged runners-up at the 1998/1999 Asian Test Championships, Sri Lanka proved their worth against South Asian cricketing giants India and Pakistan. Indeed, in the 2001/2002 season, they went on to win this tournament. By now the Sri Lankans were feared and revered.
Such success was grounded in phenomenal batting, reflected in their world record for the highest total in a Test match. This was achieved in 1997 when they registered a staggering 952/6 against India. This also contained the record for the highest partnership – a 624 run stand for the third wicket shared between Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, who scored 287 and 374 respectively, against South Africa in 2006.
However, this feat was arguably eclipsed by the achievements of the phenomenon that is Muttiah Muralitharan. The apex of his legendary career came against England in 2007 when he secured the record for most career wickets.
After being convincingly beaten by the West Indies in its first ever ODI, Sri Lanka did not make many waves in one-day cricket until the 1990s. The only significant achievements during this period were emerging champions at the ICC Trophy in 1979 and winning the Asia Cup in 1986. But all that was about to change soon.
After losing in the group stage of the 1992 World Cup, not much was expected of Sri Lanka in the 1996 competition. Dav Whatmore was the team coach while Arjuna Ranatunga was captain. Sri Lanka were controversially awarded wins against Australia and West Indies in the group stage by forfeit, when the teams refused to play their matches in Sri Lanka due to security concerns, even though the ICC had deemed it safe. It went on to win the other group stage matches quite comfortably.
After claiming the scalps of England in the quarter final, and India in the semi-final, Sri Lanka took on Australia in the final at Lahore, Pakistan. Australia, batting first, put up a formidable total of 241/7. After losing two early wickets, Sri Lanka managed to steady the ship with key performances by captain Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda De Silva and Asanka Gurusinha bringing the trophy back to Sri Lanka. In the process, they became the first team to win a World Cup final batting second. De Silva was later named man of the match for his performances with both bat and ball ( 107 runs off 124 balls and 3 wickets for 42 runs). Having won only 4 matches in the their last 5 World Cups, the victory did wonders, not only for Sri Lankan cricket, but the nation as a whole.
Sri Lanka’s technical approach to the 1996 World Cup has revolutionised one day cricket. When 60 runs was an acceptable total for the first 15 overs, the Lankans were scoring more than double that figure. This was mainly due to Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, better known as the ‘dynamic duo’. Their pinch-hitting style was the nightmare of all bowlers during the tournament. This, combined with significant contributions by De Silva, Muralitharan, Vaas and the outstanding captaincy of Ranatunga, proved to be a devastating blow to the opposition. Today, all teams follow the standards that were set by Sri Lanka at the 1996 World Cup.
In 2007, Sri Lanka once again reached the World Cup final, this time succumbing to Australia. They have also been joint winners (with India) of the ICC Champions Trophy in 2002 and won the Asia Cup in 1986, 1997 and 2004. Sri Lanka has also been responsible for handing England one of their worst ever defeats at home with a 5-0 whitewash in the 2006 NatWest Series.
To add to their claim as being one of the strongest one day teams in the game, Sri Lanka boasts records such as, highest team total (443 for 9 against Netherlands in July 2006) and highest partnership in ODIs (286 for the opening wicket, by Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga, scoring 152 and 109 respectively, against England in July 2006).
Sri Lanka made its Twenty20 debut in June 2006. They hold the record for the highest Twenty20 score (260/6 against Kenya in September 2007) and the highest winning margin by runs (172 runs against Kenya in September 2007).
Sri Lankan cricket legends
Being one of the most entertaining all rounders the game has ever seen, Jayasuriya is the holder of many cricket records. These include the record for the fastest half century in ODIs and also the record for being the only person to have recorded both 10,000 runs and 300 wickets at the same time. He also played a vital role in Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup win.
Being the highest wicket taker in the history of the game, Murali has been the cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s formidable bowling attack. As of December 2007, he is the only bowler to have taken 50 or more wickets against every Test playing nation. He also has the record for most 5 wicket and 10 wicket hauls in test cricket. Even though his unorthodox bowling style has caused controversy in the cricketing world, there is little doubt that he is one of the greatest bowlers ever.
Ranatunga is the most successful captains in the history of Sri Lankan cricket. His abilities as both a cunning strategist and solid middle order batsman contributed significantly to Sri Lanka’s first World Cup win. He was known to stubbornly resist the opposition with his slow and steady batting. He is also considered one of the single most influential figures in Sri Lanka’s cricketing history.
Being Sri Lanka’s best fast bowler, Vaas has been a key component of its bowling attack. He holds the record for the best bowling figures in ODIs, recording a stunning 8 wickets for just 19 runs against Zimbabwe. He also holds two hat tricks to his name, being one of the few bowlers to do so. One of these hat tricks came when he dismissed three Bangladeshi batsmen in the first three balls of a 2003 World Cup match between the two teams. He is a gifted bowler, able to deliver a variety of deliveries at a very low economy rate.