Looking back at Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara's record-breaking partnership of 624 at the SSC
When you think of great friends on and off the pitch, legends in their own right, who took their country to great cricketing heights, the names of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene come to the mind. Born geniuses, their contributions to Sri Lankan cricket can never be over-estimated.
It is said that the value of a great thing is felt only in its absence. Such was the dominance of this Sri Lankan pair that even years after retiring, the shadows they had cast still reign supreme as they have left an unfillable void in the Sri Lankan dressing room.
And time and again during their stellar career, the duo had hogged the limelight often making the opposition bowlers dance to their tunes. And when they did it together in a partnership very often, it was always a sight to behold.
The first Test against South Africa in July, 2006 at the Sinhalese Sports Club was one such occasion when records tumbled and the duo wove their magic as the world stood transfixed.
A partnership to remember
South Africa had been bowled out for a paltry total of 169 in their first innings and Sri Lanka were two down for 14, having lost Tharanga and Jayasuriya early when Sangakkara and Jayawardene came together.
What followed would go on to become the stuff of cricketing folklore. Jayawardene was in full flow, playing some copybook cover drives which were breathtaking to watch. And when the likes of Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini tested him with short deliveries, he was as much in control, rocking back to pull it away through mid-wicket.
He opened up more after bringing up his 15th Test century with a pull to fine leg for a boundary. It was after that he decided to go after Nicky Boje, dancing down the wicket and lofting it over extra-cover for countless times.
A six off a full-toss over long-on brought on his third double century. But there was no giving up, as he went on relentlessly driving, pulling, sweeping and lofting the ball en route to his magical 374.
Sangakkara at the other end was just as magical, severe on anything pitched short by Dale Steyn or Andrew Hall. He relished their pace to play square with finesse on either side of the wicket, cutting and pulling with severe force.
Like Jayawardene, he then started attacking Boje — if his partner was opening up the offside to loft him over extra-cover, Sangakkara was jumping out across his stumps to loft him towards long-on and midwicket.
That almost led to his downfall as he hit one towards the long-on fielder off Boje when he was on 99 but a missed catch helped him bring up his 10th Test century. After that he shifted a gear, going at Boje hammer and tongs by mercilessly sweeping him through square-leg for one boundary after another.
It was, however, a flawless lofted shot through long-on that brought on his 4th double hundred. As he steadily marched to his 287, the duo piled on the agony on a clueless South African outfit.
A record partnership
South Africa were in the field for two and a half days and tried as many as eight bowlers but to no avail. Steyn and Nel came away with economies of 4.96 and 4.52 respectively while Boje toiled hard for 65 overs, giving away 221 runs, without a wicket.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara were not only playing flawless cricket which was elegant to watch but also scored at an alarming rate, threatening to bulldoze all records to the ground.
Jayawardene’s 374 was the fourth-highest Test score and the team total of 756 for 5 helped them earn a first innings lead of 587 which was yet another record. But the record which is most well-remembered and celebrated to this day was their record-breaking third-wicket partnership of 624.
The previous best at that time was 576 - posted by Jayasuriya (340) and Roshan Mahanama (225) and as the duo neared the record, there was palpable tension among the crowd in the stadium. As four byes down the leg-side by Nicky Boje broke the record, the players were greeted with thunderous applause from the audience and firecrackers arranged by the SSC administrators.
"We knew it was the record - both the Test and first-class record - it's a great feeling, to do something that nobody else has done before," Sangakkara said. "That's what records are there for, to inspire you to try to break them. Hopefully one day someone else will break this one - that's the way cricket should go."
Sangakkara finally got out when he edged Hall to the wicket-keeper Mark Boucher. Jayawardene, however, battled on and he was given time and assurance by the team management that he would be given the necessary time to go for Brian Lara’s record of 400 runs.
At tea on the third day, he was unbeaten on 357 and there was naturally an air of expectation around the stadium that Lara’s record would be challenged. On 374, however, he was gone leaving the crowd unbroken, after an innocuous Nel delivery kept low and snuck under the bat.
"Cricket's that sort of game," said Sangakkara. "You can score a double hundred, or a triple hundred, and still be disappointed. But I was proud to be part of a partnership where Mahela batted so brilliantly - everyone's disappointed for him that he couldn't get to the 400 mark."
When records tumbled
Naturally, a lot of records were broken and new records created that day. 624 remains the highest partnership for any wicket in Tests till date. Jayawardene’s score of 374 became the fourth-highest in Tests while Sangakkara’s 287 was the highest by a wicketkeeper batsman in Tests.
The 357 the duo scored was also the highest ever scored on a single day of play in Test cricket without losing a wicket. It equalled the record set by Sobers and Hunte for the West Indies against Pakistan back in 1958.
"I'm so proud to have passed Sanath's record. He's a great cricketer and it's something everyone wants to have," said Jayawardene. "I'm absolutely delighted. One day somebody will come along and break that, but right now I have it and that's a great feeling. There's a little bit of disappointment that I didn't get to the 400 mark, but I'm very, very satisfied with what I have achieved."
Both the batsmen were presented with brand new luxury cars just after the day’s play. South Africa toiled hard and put up some resistance in their second innings, scoring a decent 434. But they still lost the match by an innings and 153 runs. Muttiah Muralitharan was the wrecker-in-chief with six wickets in the second innings.
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