Records tumble as Sri Lanka sit pretty
Mahela Jayawardene came within 26 runs of Brian Lara's record for the highest Test score, Kumar Sangakkara fell 13 short of a triple-hundred and the two put on a historic 624 runs, the highest ever partnership for any wicket in Test or first-class cricket as Sri Lanka hammered home the advantage and pushed South Africa into a corner as the third day of the first Test ended.
It was an amazing day's cricket - one where the records tumbled with every passing hour. What will give the Sri Lankans no end of pleasure is the fact that the achievement of so many milestones did nothing to reduce their chances of forcing a result in this increasingly one-sided match.
When Jayawardene was finally dismissed, bowled by an Andre Nel delivery that kept a touch low and jagged in there was a collective sigh of disappointment from the fans at the Sinhalese Sports Club. Only Lara's two big innings - 400 and 375 and Matthew Hayden's 380 were ahead of Jayawardene's effort in the list of the tallest scores in Test cricket. On the way to 374 Jayawardene left many of the all-time greats, including the likes of Don Bradman, Garry Sobers and Len Hutton, behind. His innings was superb for the serenity and composure with which he accumulated runs. When the loose ball was on offer he was happy to cash in, with trademark flowing drives, especially the inside-out shot over the off side which he plays so well. In all this, though, no-one should forget Kumar Sangakkara, who made a career-best 287 in the record stand with his captain.
First the records. It was the mark set by Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama that this pair was hunting down. Jayasuriya and Mahanama had added 576 in that famous Test against India in 1997 where Sri Lanka put on a mammoth 952 for 6 declared in response to India's first-innings 537. But interestingly, this partnership has come in a Test that is very much live, whereas the previous one came when the match as a contest was all but over, and the game ended in a dull draw.
The previous best in first-class cricket came all the way back in 1946-47 when Vijay Hazare and Gul Mohammad added 577 for the fourth wicket in the final of the Ranji Trophy and helped Baroda beat Holkar.
But records apart, Sangakkara and Jayawardene had batted in such chanceless and emphatic fashion that South Africa could come up with little in terms of a response. There was one shout for lbw early in the first session but after that, it was a case of the runs being added with metronomic efficiency. There was barely a risk taken, and the pace was steady for almost the whole duration, after an initial stage when Sangakkara and Jayawardene were watchful. Jayawardene easily went past his previous best score, 242 against India, also made at the SSC, in 1999. Sangakkara too improved on his best, 270 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 2004.
The partnership record came, almost with an air of inevitability, soon after the lunch interval. It was a Nicky Boje delivery, slipping down leg, that beat Mark Boucher and ran away for byes that brought up the milestone. Even the South Africans, who have been at the receiving end of this massive 10-hour plus association, had to stop for a moment and join the celebrations as the firecrackers were set off in the stands.
From there on the focus shifted to the individual scores of the two batsmen, and it was just after Jayawardene had brought up his maiden triple-century that Sangakkara fell. He drove at Andrew Hall and nicked to Mark Boucher, and could even manage a smile as he walked off for 287. The 624-run partnership had left Sri Lanka as the only team that could win from here on.
It's fair to say Jayawardene enjoys batting with Sangakkara, but he managed quite well even with Tillakaratne Dilshan. First he went past the highest score for a Sri Lankan beating the 340 Jayasuriya managed in the 1997 Test against India where the partnership record was set. Then came the 350. As the crowd built up in the ground, in anticipation of witnessing a world record being surpassed, came the anticlimax, with Jayawardene being bowled by Nel. Sri Lanka declared on 756 for 5, and the South Africans were just happy to get off the field. Hall and Jacques Rudolph, the openers, then negotiated a tricky passage of play, taking South Africa to 43 for no loss at stumps. But with two days to go in this match it's tough to see Sri Lanka being denied victory, unless there's plenty of rain.
Kumar Sangakkara c Boucher b Hall 287 (638 for 3)
Drove at and edged a full ball outside off
Tillakaratne Dilshan lbw b Steyn 45 (751 for 4)
Fell over and missed a full, straight ball
Mahela Jayawardene b Nel 374 (756 for 5)
Missed a ball that jagged in and kept a bit low
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo