Though India and Sri Lanka played their first Test match only in 1982, cricket relations between the two nations stretch back to fifty years before that. That was when Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) visited India to play two unofficial Tests in Lahore and New Delhi.
In succeeding years, the ties were maintained with frequent visits by both countries. The teams also met in the 1979 World Cup where Sri Lanka scored a notable upset victory over India in the group match. In more ways than one then, India had reason to back Sri Lanka for full Test status, which the island nation achieved in 1981, playing her first Test against England at Colombo the following year.
Sri Lanka acquitted itself creditably in their drawn first Test against India at Chepauk in 1982-83. Over the next three years, however while Australia and New Zealand followed England to play Test matches in Sri Lanka, India did not. It was felt then that India should make a trip to the island nation to encourage the game there and so a visit was hastily put together to be made in August - September 1985.
Indeed, for some time even after there had been talk of the tour taking place, it was not clear whether the Indians would make the trip. The unsettled situation in Sri Lanka made many believe that the tour would be cancelled. Finally the visitors landed in Colombo on the eve of their opening first class game.
All this was clearly a mistake from India's viewpoint. A tour so early in the season meant that the Indians could not prepare themselves adequately. Many in the team had not played for months and there wasn't even a camp ahead of the tour for the squad since everything was arranged in a bit of a hurry. And then of course there was a feeling of complacency amongst the visitors who reckoned that Sri Lanka, still without a Test victory after 12 matches, would be a cake walk. Another factor against India was Sunil Gavaskar's decision to bat lower down in the order. This naturally upset the balance of the batting for the new opening pair of K Srikkanth and Lalchand Rajput were far from successful.
The net result of all this uncertainty and lack of planning was that India, against all expectations, went down to a shock defeat. They lost the second Test of the three Test series and that was enough for Sri Lanka to wrap up the series as well. No praise can be too high for the Lankans who had trained assiduously for months and were fiercely determined to register their maiden triumph in Test cricket. This motivation was as much a factor in the Sri Lankans' victory as the complacency displayed by the Indians.
The Indians came to Sri Lanka riding a wave. They had notched up two notable one-day triumphs in Australia and Sharjah earlier in the year. In the Test arena, they did not have an enviable record since 1982 but then over the same period, novices Sri Lanka too had lost eight of the 12 Tests it had played.
Two three day games and a one day international was hardly the kind of preparation to find form before the three Tests which were played on the trot. Indeed, the Indians came close to losing the first Test at the SSC in Colombo. The visitors were all out for 218 to which Sri Lanka replied with 347. It took a gallant unbeaten 98 in six and three quarter hours by Dilip Vengsarkar to stretch the Indian second innings score to 251. Besides Vengsarkar's efforts, rain which cut short a session's play on the final day also saw Sri Lankan victory hopes being dented. Ultimately, the home team were set to get 123 runs in eleven overs. Changing their batting order, Sri Lanka showed a willingness to chase the difficult target but were 61 for four after eight overs when bad light brought about an early finish.
The warning signals had by now been posted loud and clear. But the Indians did not heed them and some more loose batting and bowling saw Sri Lanka register their historic triumph at the Saravanamuthu stadium in Colombo a week later. Wicketkeeper Amal Silva, with a stroke filled 111, gave the necessary impetus at the top of the order and stylist Roy Dias followed with 95. A Sri Lankan total of 385 was always going to test the Indians, who under pressure were all out for 244. Even this represented a recovery for they lost their first three batsmen with just three runs on the board. Sri Lanka could now call the shots and, declaring their second innings at 206 for three, set India a victory target of 348 in 333 minutes and 20 mandatory overs. At 98 for seven, the Indians were hurtling towards a big defeat before a gallant 78 by the captain Kapil Dev took the final total to 198, reducing the victory margin to 149 runs. Silva followed his century with nine victims - an unprecedented feat for a wicketkeeper in a Test match while Rumesh Ratnayake had a match haul of nine wickets. Scenes of jubilation followed culminating in nationwide celebrations and a public holiday the following day.
The Indians could at best hope to salvage some pride by winning the final Test at Kandy and squaring the series. They did have an excellent chance but squandered it. After scoring 249, enough for them to take a first innings lead of 51, the visitors, aided by an unbeaten 116 by Mohinder Amarnath - the only hundred for the Indians as compared to five for the Sri Lankans - declared their second innings at 325 for five. A victory target of 377 in 420 minutes and 20 mandatory overs was never really on and indeed the Sri Lankans faced defeat when they lost three wickets for 34 on the fourth evening. However a 216-run partnership in 285 minutes between Sri Lanka's two most accomplished batsmen, captain Duleep Mendis and his deputy Roy Dias steered the home team to safety. Both got hundreds and Sri Lanka's closing score of 307 for seven was enough to ensure a series triumph.
As if this was not enough, India's image as world champions in one day cricket was dented with the three match series ending one all. India won the first, lost the second and the third ended in no result. On the whole, it was a traumatic trip, marred also by unconvincing umpiring, about which the Indians stated their misgivings in unambiguous terms.