Historic Test innings puts a war on hold

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The Independent Online
As Sri Lankan cricketers set a world record for most runs in a Test innings yesterday, soldiers in the war-torn north-east of the country broke off from their 14-year fight against Tamil Tiger guerrillas, to gather around television sets.

Playing in the first Test against India, Sri Lanka sailed past the previous record - England's 903 for 7 declared against Australia at The Oval in 1938 - when they reached 905 for 4.

"For a few minutes, we almost forgot the war," said Corporal Tissa Kudabandara, speaking on the telephone from the eastern port city of Trincomalee. In the capital, Colombo, Sri Lankans lit crackers and work came to a standstill as people celebrated.

The gloom which set in earlier in the day when the local hero Sanath Jayasuriya fell short of the West Indian Brian Lara's highest individual score of 375, lifted as Aravinda de Silva hit the boundary to take Sri Lanka past the old record.

"Even when we won the World Cup, we weren't taken seriously by the rest of the cricket world. But now, everyone can see that Sri Lankan Test cricket is for real," said Manoj de Soyza, an accountant, who like many, had stopped working to to watch the match on television. Many people came to work early, hoping to catch Jayasuriya pass Lara's mark at the R. Premadasa Stadium, where entrance was free .

But Jayasuriya, who had only 50 runs to go from his overnight 326, spooned a catch to Saurav Ganguly off the spinner Rajesh Chauhan. "People in my office were sobbing. They were so unhappy that no one was doing any work," said Dilan Ekanayake, a stockbroker.

The veteran batsman Roshan Mahanama had been leg-before the previous ball, after hitting 225 in a partnership of 576, a record for any wicket beating the 467 set by New Zealand's Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones at Wellington against Sri Lanka in 1991.

But de Silva and his captain Arjuna Ranatunga hit 175 runs for the fourth wicket- before Ranatunga departed for 86 - bringing the record within reach. De Silva and the newcomer Mahela Jayawardena coasted to the mark.

The match was drawn.

Match report, page 20