Wisden Cricket Monthly / News

WCM - September 1997

The highest Test total

Steven Lynch

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Sanath Jayasuriya is congratulated on his 300 © WCM
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It looked like being one of those sleepy subcontinental Tests, where the side batting first runs up a big score and the other team tries to match their total.

And the first two days on a docile pitch at Colombo's R Premadasa (formerly Khetterama) Stadium followed that template. India made 537 for 8, with centuries from Sidhu (his eighth in Tests), Tendulkar (12th) and Azharuddin (18th). India declared shortly before the end of the second day, and Tendulkar promised his bowlers would "attack for three days". They claimed a wicket in the last over. It went to Nilesh Kulkarni, 24, a left-arm spinner from Bombay, who became only the 12th bowler to take a wicket with his first ball in Tests. But his dream start was to turn into a nightmare: he sent down 419 more balls without taking another wicket, and conceded 195 runs.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama, team-mates with Colombo's Bloomfield club, batted throughout the third day (the 12th instance in Test history) and on through the fourth. No pair had survived two full days' play before, although Garry Sobers and Frank Worrell almost managed it against England at Bridgetown in 1959-60: they also batted through two days, but an hour was lost to rain on the second of them.

Jayasuriya had reached 326, Sri Lanka's first Test triple-century, by the fourth-day close. He was within sight of Brian Lara's Test-record 375, and in anticipation of a new mark the gates were thrown open on the final day. Over 30,000 crowded in, but many were still trying to find a perch when Jayasuriya, two balls after losing his partner for 225, was surprised by one that bounced from offspinner Chauhan and popped a simple catch to Ganguly at silly point. The Indian fielders all ran to congratulate the batsman, and clapped him off the field. Jayasuriya had made 340, from 578 balls in 799 minutes, with 36 fours and two sixes. He banished once and for all any notion that he is only a one-day hitter. Only three higher scores have been made in Tests - Lara's 375, Garry Sobers's 365 not out, and Len Hutton's 364.

Jayasuriya's first task had been to ensure that Sri Lanka avoided the follow-on. "I was happy to go all that way," he said. "I wasn't going after the record - at least not until the end of the fourth day, when someone told me I was only 50 short. I felt a great pressure on me when I came out to bat [on the fifth morning], and obviously I am disappointed now - but at least my country has made a great achievement."

His partnership with Mahanama, who scored his first Test double-century, set several more records. They eventually put on 576 in 753 minutes, the longest stand in Test history and only one run shy of the highest in first-class cricket (577 by Vijay Hazare and Gul Mahomed in India in 1946-47). They cruised past the previous-highest Test partnership, the 467 of Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones at Wellington in 1990-91. This record was taken with some relish, as the suffering bowlers on that occasion were Sri Lanka's.

The record breaking did not stop when the epic partnership was ended. Aravinda de Silva showed little sign that he had been padded up for the best part of 13 hours, compiling a neat 12th Test century of his own, while skipper Ranatunga made 86, becoming the first Sri Lankan to pass 4000 Test runs during his innings. Mahela Jayawardene, 19, also chipped in on his debut.

England's 903 for 7 at The Oval in 1938, the highest Test total, was the next big target: eventually that too was surpassed. A score of 1000 seemed a possibility, but as there was no chance of a result a halt was called with seven of the last 20 overs bowled. Sri Lanka's 952 for 6 is the third-highest total in all first-class cricket, exceeded only by Victoria's two four-figure totals in Australia in the 1920s.

Ona dead pitch India stuck well enough to their task, at least on the third and fourth days. Not surprisingly, the bowlers and fielders wilted on the final day as Sri Lanka piled on the runs with all prospect of a result long gone. Opening bowler Kuruvilla, who picked up a leg injury, was spared much of the punishment, but Chauhan, on his return to Test cricket after doubts about his bowling action, and Kumble both conceded over 200 runs.

Tendulkar said the pitch was "unfit for Test cricket", adding: "If we had lost the toss and batted second, we could also have played a massive innings. We only lost wickets because we took chances and looked for runs."

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket

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Steven Lynch Steven Lynch won the Wisden Cricket Monthly Christmas Quiz three years running before the then-editor said "I can't let you win it again, but would you like a job?" That lasted for 15 years, before he moved across to the Wisden website when that was set up in 2000. Following the merger of the two sites early in 2003 he was appointed as the global editor of Wisden Cricinfo. In June 2005 he became the deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. He continues to contribute the popular weekly "Ask Steven" question-and-answer column on ESPNcricinfo, and edits the Wisden Guide to International Cricket.
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