Higher, faster, further...
Sunil Gavaskar always said he looked forward to the day when someone
would break his record for the highest individual score made by an Indian
in Test cricket.
He believed that one day an Indian would put up an
individual score of 250. "Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Sri Lanka - they all have
individual scores higher than any scored by an Indian!"
I can understand the agony. India are sixty five years old in Test
cricket. Sri Lanka are a mere sixteen, and Zimbabwe not yet five. Yet,
David Houghton, Aravinda da Silva and now Sanath Jayasuriya have scored
more in an innings than any Indian did.
And Sri Lanka now hold the most outstanding batting record that a pair of
cricketers can ever hope to achieve. These are huge moments for a country
that only really discovered itself two and a half years ago in New
Zealand by winning an away Test and with it, an away series.
Remarkable as the batting statistics for Jaysuriya and Mahanama are, look
at them in the context of what came before, and you realise that the peak they
have scaled makes Everest a little evening stroll. Only two Sri Lankans
had scored double hundreds in Test cricket before this, and one of those
(Brendon Kuruppu) was a man who played very little cricket afterwards.
And they have only won five Test matches in their history, so far.
For a side so young, and in
Test cricket, so immature, this is inspiring stuff; the kind little boys
dream about or manipulate in book cricket through skilful use of
bookmarks. Or when they decide to play against themselves and are
batsman, bowler and umpire rolled into one. Very handy when you want a
Jayasuriya and Mahanama, though played real cricket - and to me this is a
landmark in Sri Lankan cricket that goes way beyond statistics. From the
time Sri Lanka played the first World Cup in 1975, they had looked a very
exciting one-day side, capable of irritating people but just as adept at
throwing it away. That obstacle has long been consigned to museums, and
there is little doubt that in sub-continental conditions,they are the
best one-day side in the world today. They might struggle a bit on bouncier
tracks, but they would have to be in the top three teams anywhere, on any wicket.
But Test cricket? And Sri Lanka? Always a question mark, because among other
things they played so little. Remember that they had no home
cricket for five years, and that can be a crippling phenomenon for a young
country. A combination of poor marketability and snobbishness (gee, I wonder
what England are going to say now - I have always maintained that Sri
Lanka should invite England for a one-off Test on the ground that the English team is not competitive enough!) meant that overseas invitations weren't
exactly being handed around. The resultant inexperience meant that newer
cricketers could not draw on what the seniors had seen.
Sri Lankan cricket, especially Test cricket, was caught in the cricketing
equivalent of stagflation. They were becalmed - and that is why the tour of
New Zealand in early 1995 was so crucial. And now this!
I remember seeing them play in India in early 1994 in a series of three
Tests. They were pathetic - not just because they always lost the crucial
tosses and had to bat on crumbling turners, but because they seemed to
play with hearts the size of undeveloped peas. At Lucknow, for instance, Don Anurasiri
was bowling over the wicket and down the leg side on the first afternoon.
They looked like a side that would be very happy taking a match into the
fifth day and that they might just collapse out of disbelief if they won.
And then in Australia they made a lot of friends, played some stirring
cricket, stood as one, shoulder to shoulder, over the Muralitharan affair
(I sometimes wonder how much Darrel Hair has contributed to the team
spirit in this side) but, as Steve Waugh was quick to remind people, that
series had a disastrous scoreline in the end.
Partly as a result of such experiences, especially India 1994, I was very
curious to see how Sri Lanka would react to a big Indian total. I knew
that victory in the one-day competitions had made them a very confident
side but I am not ashamed to say that I have been caught completely
When Sri Lanka came out to bat late on the second evening, they didn't
look like a side having to overcome a huge total. You almost got the
feeling that the Indian total didn't even matter; in fact that it was a
minor milestone on a road that was studded with records - the cricketing
equavalent of a long diamond necklace.
Not only have Sri Lanka proved now that they can play Test cricket with
the temperament of the best in the world, a couple of individuals have
made some awesome personal statements. Starting with the man who gives
Indian cricket followers more nightmares than Javed Miandad did.
Jayasuriya! If he could bottle up a bit of India and take it with him all
over the world, Sri Lanka would never lose!
You thought, didn't you, that he was another slogger; another monstrous
creation of one-day cricket? That he was good enough as long as the
bowlers had both hands tied behind their backs? Forget how many
Jayasuriya made in this innings - I have been amazed, even dumbstruck, by
the manner in which they have been made.
This was an orthodox innings. The head was bent low over the ball, the
defence was tight. And the effect of playing short innings was invisible.
He could, of course, downplay his innings in the manner that Arjuna
Ranatunga did after that fabulous 131 by saying it wasn't made against
the best attack. But to bat upwards of twelve hours without once looking
disturbed; to score at under 60 runs per 100 balls ( like asking Micheal
Schumacher to drive at 60 kmph!) speaks of a very disciplined man, and
reveals an excellent cricket brain.
As a result, India have been crushed mentally. Figures on a scoreboard
change with time; even the paper on which records are written is turned
over - but the scars that such performances leave behind on the minds of
bowlers take a very long time to heal. You look at your bowling figures;
you strain to remember even one moment that had the batsman in trouble,
and you start to ask yourself if this is as good as you really are.
Look at this Indian bowling side (I typed 'Indian attack' first, but
feared the sub-editor would ask me to refer to the meaning of the word `attack' before using it to describe the five mainline bowlers we used here)
and the stage each of the bowlers finds himself in. Nilesh Kulkarni in
his first Test match getting completely overwhelmed; Rajesh Chauhan in a
comeback Test going wicketless, and Anil Kumble, desperate to shake off
those irritating one-dayers, finds his confidence sinking even lower. And
remember, except for Javagal Srinath, this is the best bowling side
available in the country.
I read a news snippet that Anshuman Gaekwad is already in Sri Lanka. It
is an open secret that he will be the next coach of the Indian side
(apparently from October 1). I think he would have already made a small entry
into his private diary: dirt tracks, or else disaster!
Unfortunately, we are now the poorest bowling side in the world. We have
been the worst fielders for a while now.
But don't tell that to Sanath
Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama.
Forget which side you are supporting. Just stand up and clap. For what
they have done this day, no pair of humans may ever do again.