Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, scored a magnificent 374 and helped break the record for the highest partnership in Test matches in a mammoth 624-run stand with Kumar Sangakkara on the third day of the First Test against South Africa yesterday.
Jayawardene's marathon innings, the highest score by a Sri Lankan and the fourth highest in the all-time individual list, guided his team to a formidable 756 for 5 declared.
The hosts' score, the second highest in history by Sri Lanka, left South Africa facing a daunting 587-run deficit. Their fight for survival started well, with the openers, Andrew Hall (13 not out) and Jacques Rudolph (24 not out), taking them to 43 without loss at the close.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara put on 624 in 160.3 overs before Andrew Hall finally found the outside edge of the latter's bat with a full-length delivery. The previous 576-run record, set by compatriots Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama against India in 1997, was broken when the South Africa wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher, conceded four byes off the bowling of the left-arm spinner Nicky Boje.
Celebrated with firecrackers around the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, the new milestone was reached with Jayawardene on 278 and Sangakkara on 273. The partnership was also the highest stand in first-class cricket.
When he was finally bowled by an Andre Nel delivery that kept low, the 29-year-old Jayawardene, who also passed 6,000 Test runs during his innings, had faced 572 balls and hit 43 boundaries, including one six. His elegant innings was all the more remarkable for the fact that he did not offer South Africa's fielders a single chance and was only rarely beaten.
The crowd had swollen throughout the afternoon as spectators sensed an opportunity to watch Jayawardene break Brian Lara's record Test score of 400. But the carnival atmosphere was punctured when his off-stump was knocked back shortly after South Africa took the second new ball.
The previous highest score by a Sri Lankan was the 340 scored by Jayasuriya against India at Colombo in 1997. Jayawardene and Sangakkara also became only the second pair in Test history to score 250s in the same innings, after Sir Garfield Sobers and Conrad Hunte for West Indies against Pakistan in 1957-58.
Sangakkara's 287, also a personal best after his 270 against Zimbabwe in 2004, spanned 457 deliveries and included 35 fours.
After Sangakkara's dismissal, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had to wait for more than 11 hours to come in, hit 45 to add another 100 with his captain, who declared after his innings ended.
"It was a fantastic feeling when we got there," Jayawardene said about the 624-run partnership record. "Kumar and I are very good friends on and off the field, and I am privileged to be involved in this partnership with him."
The smash hits: Highest individual test scores
B C Lara 400no West Indies v England, Antigua 2004
M L Hayden 380 Australia v Zimbabwe, Perth 2003
B C Lara 375 West Indies v England, Antigua 1994
D P M D Jayawardene 374 Sri Lanka v South Africa, Colombo 2006
Best test stands
K C Sangakkara & Jayawardene 624 Sri Lanka v South Africa 2006
S T Jayasuriya & R S Mahanama 576 Sri Lanka v India, Colombo 1997
A H Jones & M D Crowe 467 New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Wellington 1990
W H Ponsford & D G Bradman 451 England v Australia, The Oval 1934
Message from Oz: You're welcome down here, Fred
Justin Langer flew back to Australia last week in fine fettle after spending some quality time with Somerset. By scoring 344 against Surrey, the Aussie opener proved the completeness of his recovery from a brutal blow to the head in the Johannesburg Test in the spring. Langer is happy with the idea that Andrew Flintoff should play club games in Australia in November to assist his own recovery. "Any game of cricket does you good," he says. Although Langer doubts whether Flintoff would get enough games to make the trip worthwhile, Western Suburbs in Sydney have already offered him a berth.
Of all England's injuries, Langer identifies Flintoff's as the most crucial: "He was the catalyst of England's Ashes victory." No black propaganda from Langer here: "England have got a very good side. No doubt about it. It's going to be a good series."
His 344 was only one run short of the highest score by an Australian in England (Charlie Macartney got 345.) "Nice, isn't it," says Langer. "It was an easy pitch, but Surrey's is probably the best bowling attack in the country." Mostly, he played Twenty20 cricket. He arrived a sceptic and left a convert. "I really enjoyed it," he says.