Sri Lanka have gone on to become one of the top Test teams since their debut more than three decades back in 1981-82. They almost immediately made an impression, proving that they belonged to the top tier of international cricket.
Though they have been generally ordinary overseas, playing them in their own backyard is one of the biggest challenges for a Test team. In this post, we look at the Lions’ five most memorable Test match victories, in chronological order:-
1) Beat India by 149 runs, Second Test, Colombo (PSS), 1985
This was India’s first tour to Sri Lanka. The two teams had earlier played a one-off Test in India in 1982-83, which was drawn. In the first Test of the 1985 series, Sri Lanka came very close to a maiden Test win – they were 61/4 in pursuit of 123 when the match was drawn.
However, the hosts reserved their best for the second Test at the P Sara Oval, recording a historic first ever Test win (in their 14th match), which also ultimately gave them their first ever series victory as the final Test was drawn.
Captained by Duleep Mendis, Sri Lanka started off solidly after winning the toss. Their first five partnerships read 74, 95, 60, 99 and 40 as the Indians failed to breach the top-order.
Wicketkeeper-opener Amal Silva scored 111 while Roy Dias contributed 95, aided by useful knocks from Ranjan Maugalle (54) and Mendis (51). The Indian bowlers fought back through Chetan Sharma (5/118) as the last 6 wickets fell for only 17, leaving Sri Lanka with a total of 385.
The pace trio of Asantha de Mel, Rumesh Ratnayake (4/76) and Saliya Ahangama (3/59) then rocked the Indian batting, leaving them reeling at 3/3. Kris Srikkanth (64), Sunil Gavaskar (52) and Mohinder Amarnath (60) repaired the damage, but India could only muster 244.
With a substantial lead and time running out, Sri Lanka went at nearly four an over on the fourth day before declaring at 206/3. Young Aravinda de Silva made a responsible 75 while Dias chipped in again with 60*, the two putting on 132 for the fourth wicket.
Set a target of 348, India started the final day on 16/0. On Day 5, the top-order came a cropper again as the home pacemen reduced India from 39/0 to 41/3. They further crashed to 98/7 before captain Kapil Dev salvaged some pride with an innings of 78.
Kapil was last out at 198, caught and bowled off Ratnayake to spark off jubilation among the Sri Lankans. Ratnayake took 5/49 to finish with match-figures of 9/125. The Lankans then sealed the series with a draw at Kandy a week later.
2) Beat New Zealand by 241 runs, First Test, Napier, 1994-95
This was Sri Lanka’s first Test win overseas, which culminated in a first overseas series victory after the second match in the two-Test rubber was drawn. Until this series, all of Sri Lanka’s four Test match wins had come at home, and their overseas record read 17 defeats and no wins in 30 Tests.
After being put in, captain Arjuna Ranatunga (55) rescued his side from 64/5 to a total of 183. Danny Morrison and debutant Kerry Walmsley took three wickets each for the hosts.
Chaminda Vaas and Pramodya Wickremasinghe then ripped through the New Zealand top-order, reducing them to 6/3. Only Stephen Fleming and captain Ken Rutherford managed double fugures as New Zealand folded for 109 on the second day, Wickremasinghe taking 5/47.
Sri Lanka themselves crashed to 22/3 in the second innings, but a strong performance by the middle-order kept them well in control. The reliable Aravinda de Silva scored 62 while Hashan Tillekaratne made 74. The top-score however came from wicketkeeper Chamara Dunusinghe, who struck a patient 91 from number seven to shut out New Zealand.
Sri Lanka scored 352, setting the hosts a steep 427. The chase began soundly, with number three Mark Greatbatch (46) looking in fine fettle. However, from a safe 108/1, the innings fell apart and New Zealand were dismissed for 185 early on the final day, with the pace-spin duo of man-of-the-match Vaas (5/43) and Muttiah Muralitharan (5/64) ensuring the historic win.
3) Beat England by 10 wickets, Only Test, The Oval, 1998
This is probably Sri Lanka’s most memorable overseas win, for they not just beat England away for the first time, but demolished them and convinced them to have more than just a solitary Test in future series with their increasingly improving side.
Arjuna Ranatunga surprisingly put England in, and Greame Hick (107) and John Crawley (156*) cashed in with centuries to rescue the hosts from 81/3 and lead them to a healthy 445.
Hick put on 128 for the fourth wicket with Mark Ramprakash (53) while the last-wicket pair of Crawley and Angus Fraser frustrated Sri Lanka by adding 89. Muttiah Muralitharan bowled wholeheartedly to claim 7/155.
On the third day, opener Sanath Jayasuriya played one of the great innings seen in England, smashing 213 off just 278 balls with 33 fours and a six to demoralise the English bowlers.
He added 243 for the third wicket with Aravinda de Silva, who himself went on to make 152. De Silva added a further 112 with Ranatunga (51) for the fourth wicket. Helped by a last-wicket stand of 59 between debutant Suresh Perera and Muralitharan, Sri Lanka went on to 591 – a lead of 146.
England were 54/2 at the start of the final day, but Muralitharan was in his element. The great off-spinner cut through the English batting as he spun a web to record stunning figures of 54.2-27-65-9 (the other wicket being a run-out).
England were bowled out for 181, with their best efforts to stick around for a draw going in vain. Set a modest 36 to win, Sri Lanka galloped to 37/0 in five overs to record the victory. Muralitharan’s match return of 16/220 are the fifth-best ever in Test history.
4) Beat Australia by 6 wickets, First Test, Kandy, 1999
This is one of the two home wins in this list, and it came against the world’s best team. Sanath Jayasuriya was the home captain. After electing to bat, Steve Waugh’s Australians crashed to a woeful 60/7, with pace bowlers Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa (three wickets each) doing the damage.
Ricky Ponting’s 96 and his 107-run stand with Jason Gillespie (41) for the eighth wicket revived the innings, which eventually ended at 188 with Muttiah Muralitharan picking 4/63.
In reply, Sri Lanka rode on Aravinda de Silva’s 78 and his 107-run fourth-wicket alliance with Mahela Jayawardene (46) to post 234. Spinners Shane Warne and Colin Miller took 5/52 and 4/62 respectively.
In a freak incident, when Sri Lanka were 139/3, Steve Waugh and Gillespie collided with each other so badly while trying to catch Jayawardene out, that it broke their nose and leg respectively.
With the two injured men absent, Australia caved in meekly in the second dig, getting bundled out for 140. Vaas and Muralitharan took three wickets each, while again only Ponting (51) offered resistance.
Despite a few hiccups thanks to Miller’s three scalps, Sri Lanka easily coasted to victory within three days, reaching 95/4 with the senior duo of de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga remaining unbeaten. Sri Lanka won the three-Test series 1-0, and this remains Sri Lanka’s only Test win over Australia in 26 matches till date.
5) Beat South Africa by 208 runs, Second Test, Durban, 2011-12
This win – Sri Lanka’s first in South Africa – was quite an astonishing achievement, given that Sri Lanka had failed to register a win in their previous 15 Tests, and had come back from an innings-and-81-runs drubbing in the first Test of this series.
After skipper Tillekaratne Dilshan called correctly, Sri Lanka’s first innings reached 338 after being 162/5 thanks to a 111-run stand for the sixth wicket between Thilan Samaraweera, who made a gritty 102, and debutant Dinesh Chandimal (58). Another debutant, South Africa’s fast bowler Marchant de Lange, took 7/87.
Left-arm fast bowler Chanaka Welegedara then enjoyed his best moment till date, taking 5/52, and aided by the left-arm spin of Rangana Herath (4/49), helped bowl out the hosts for 168. Hashim Amla top-scored with 54.
Sri Lanka were right on top now and built on their position through Kumar Sangakkara (108) and Chandimal (54), the two adding 104 for the sixth wicket. Despite Dale Steyn’s 5/73, Sri Lanka made 279 and set South Africa 450 to win.
It was never going to be the Proteas’ game though, as they slipped to 133/6. The best efforts of Amla (51) and A.B de Villiers (69) were not enough, as South Africa were bowled out for 241. Herath took 5/79, giving him 9/128 in a memorable performance. South Africa took the series with a ten-wicket win in the third Test.