Sri Lanka's 952 hints at new era

Tony Cozier witnesses the one-day specialists' intent to dominate Test cricket with a world record in Colombo
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In a match already wallowing in an ocean of runs and records, the most coveted standard of all eluded their left-handed opener, Sanath Jayasuriya, on the final day of the first Test against India, but Sri Lanka still had the satisfaction of surpassing a mark of far longer standing.

Jayasuriya fell for 340 after 25 minutes, 35 short of Brian Lara's highest Test score of 375, but when stumps were finally drawn on a match that yielded 1,489 runs and a mere 14 wickets, Sri Lanka, at 952 for 6, were well clear of England's 903 for 7 declared against Australia at The Oval that had stood since 1938 as Test cricket's highest team total.

It was irrelevant to the Test as a genuine contest, but the 30,000 afforded free admission principally to witness Jayasuriya reach his goal and packed into the Premadasa Stadium were exultant. It was a further psychological fillip to Sri Lanka's status as undisputed champions of the one-day game.

Upali Dharmadasa, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, said: "We had set ourselves the target of mastering Test cricket as we have the one-day variety by the year 2000 and our batsmen have to learn to occupy the crease, which is one of the secrets to success in the traditional game. This was a tremendous performance and means a lot to us in the development of a real Test team."

Yet, according to the former Australian captain Greg Chappell, here as a television commentator, such pointless results are only hastening the day when regulations governing Test cricket must be changed to ensure its survival.

"The groundsman prepared an absolute belter, which did not offer an equal contest between bat and ball and you can't blame the batsmen for taking full advantage," he said.

"Anyone who makes 300 in a Test has got to have great skill and powers of endurance but the public is not going to come out to watch when they know they're not going to have a chance of a result."

On the first four days of the match no more than 3,000 spectators were in the ground and it was only Jayasuriya's proximity to Lara's mark and the open gates that attracted a full house on the final day. Already there has been talk in this part of the world, not least from the new president of the International Cricket Council, Jagmohan Dalmayia, of streamlining Tests to prevent their demise.

The crowd had come in their droves, carrying their drums, trumpets and flags - and their hopes and expectations. For most it was a mere formality for the popular Jayasuriya to add the 50 runs he needed to take his place at the head of the game's most illustrious batting list.

Instead their dreams were shattered within 25 minutes. In the twinkling of an eye both Roshan Mahanama, who had stayed with Jayasuriya for more than two days while adding 547, and Jayasuriya himself were out in the space of three balls.

Mahanama, the tall, correct right-hander, went back to Anil Kumble's top- spinner and was leg before for 225, the first and only such decision of the match and a courageous one at that by the umpire, K T Francis, himself a Sri Lankan.

An immediate hush enveloped the ground that had been enlivened by three fours from each batsmen, and the stunned spectators had no time to overcome their shock before Jayasuriya fell to the second ball of the next over, nervously prodding a catch to silly point from the off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan. It was the first chance he had given in 13 and a quarter hours at the wicket and, after the initial silence, he left to a rousing ovation.

All after that might have been a crushing anticlimax, but Aravinda de Silva and the captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka's longest-serving cricketers and most attractive batsmen, were not going to waste a perfect batting pitch. They put on 175 in two and a quarter hours before Ranatunga ran himself out 14 short of his fifth Test hundred. De Silva would not be so careless and passed his 12th Test hundred before holing out to long- off for 126 once England's previous high total had been passed. Sri Lanka reached the 903 from 260 overs. England, for whom Len Hutton made 364, Maurice Leyland 187 and Joe Hardstaff Jnr 169 not out, had taken 325.2 overs. Even in that, Sri Lanka could claim superiority but did it really amount to much?

History's highest Test totals

695 Australia v England, The Oval, 1930

699-5 Pakistan v India, Lahore, 1989-90

701 Australia v England, The Oval, 1934

708 Pakistan v England, The Oval, 1987

729-6dec Australia v England, Lord's, 1930

758-8dec Australia v West Indies, Kingston, 1954-55

790-3dec West Indies v Pakistan, Kingston, 1957-58

849 England v West Indies, Kingston, 1929-30

903-7dec England v Australia, The Oval, 1938

952-6 Sri Lanka v India, Colombo, 1997