Test matches between India and Sri Lanka, going on for the past 35 years, have mostly occurred sans the hype associated with some of the storied rivalries in the game. But the clashes between the two neighbours have always had a sense of competitiveness within them.
In the 207 international games (41 Tests, 155 ODIs and 11 T20Is) that these two Asian powerhouses have played against each other, it is India who have managed to gain the upper hand across all three formats.
Particularly in Tests, India have won 19 and lost only 7 out of the 41 matches. Among those, there have been quite a few games where the two teams played brilliantly to produce fascinating action. Let’s look at five such entertaining Tests between India and Sri Lanka.
#5 Mumbai - 1997
In 1997, India and Sri Lanka played five Tests in the span of four months. And surprisingly not one of them produced a result. After playing a high-scoring series in Sri Lanka in August 1997, India dominated the first Test in Mohali before rain played spoilsport in the second Test at Nagpur.
So, the stage was set for a decider with both teams aiming for a series win. Sri Lanka opted to bowl first on a helpful Wankhede track. The decision seemed to backfire as India posted 512 after being 55-2. Sourav Ganguly (173) and Sachin Tendulkar (148) not only scored majestic hundreds but also combined to form a mammoth 256-run stand for the 4th wicket.
But a lower-order collapse meant India lost momentum as they were bowled out for 512. The hosts lost their last 7 wickets for just 41 runs as Sri Lanka came back well to restrict them. Sri Lanka, in reply, started off positively as they were placed at 180-2 at one stage. But none of their batsmen could convert promising starts and the visitors were bowled out for 361 which saw them concede a big lead of 151 runs.
Sri Lanka’s bowling, which was under scrutiny in the first innings, came to the party as they kept chipping away with wickets which ensured India didn’t score quickly. However, the visitors were set a target of 333 in 94 overs.
The Lankans needed to bat out a little more than a day. The start, like the first innings, was positive as Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu stitched a solid 58-run opening stand. But as soon as that stand was broken, the visitors lost wickets at regular intervals as they tried to defend through the final day.
Aided by some rain and bad light and some gritty batting from Roshan Mahanama and skipper Arjuna Ranatunga (both of whom were eventually dismissed), Sri Lanka escaped with a draw. At 166/7 and with 12 overs to play, India would’ve certainly fancied their chances but it wasn’t to be as a fifth consecutive stalemate between the two sides ensured the series ended in a draw as well.
#4 Kandy – 2001
After being beaten neck and crop in the first Test in Galle on a green pitch, India were without their spearhead Javagal Srinath for the second Test (he was ruled out with a fractured left hand).
On a pitch which was similar to the first Test, Ganguly opted to bowl first. The Indian bowlers made good use of the conditions as Lankans managed just 274 and that too on the back of a very good 104 from Mahela Jayawardene. The onus was now on the Indian batsmen who had failed to touch the 200-mark in both innings of the first Test. However, they succumbed to some excellent fast bowling led by Chaminda Vaas (who took 4/65) conceding a 42-run lead after being bowled out for 232.
India needed to restrict the Lankans to a low score and they did exactly that. Zaheer Khan and Venkatesh Prasad bowled superbly as they shared nine wickets to bowl the hosts out for 221. The visitors needed 264 to level the series. But considering the way they had batted in the series and it being a fourth-innings pitch, the chase was always going to be tricky.
However, Rahul Dravid’s 75 and skipper Ganguly’s unbeaten 98 ensured India levelled the series as they completed the chase in almost 79 overs.
#3 Colombo (PSS) – 2010
The 2010 Test series in Sri Lanka will be fondly remembered for Muttiah Muralitharan’s farewell Test match in Galle (first Test in Galle) where he finished a celebrated career with a staggering 800 Test scalps. It was also a winning farewell for the Lankan spin-legend.
But after a poor first Test, India came back well in the series. After playing out a high-scoring draw in the second Test, India needed to win to level the series. After choosing to bat first, the hosts posted 425 on the back of Samaraweera’s unbeaten 137 along with some useful contributions from Mahela Jayawardene (56) and Kumar Sangakkara (75).
India managed to gain a slender lead of 11 runs as they scored 436 with Virender Sehwag scoring a brilliant run-a-ball 109. Laxman (56), Raina (62) and Tendulkar (41) made some useful contributions as well. But it was the second innings that changed the complexion of the game. At 125/8, the game looked done and dusted for the Lankans but Samaraweera (83) and Ajantha Mendis (78) bailed them out of trouble as they set India a tricky target of 257.
Batting in the fourth innings of a Test isn’t easy especially in the subcontinent and India found themselves in early trouble as they were reduced to 62/4 early on the fifth day. But Laxman scored an unbeaten 103 to turn the visitors' fortunes. He batted beautifully along with Tendulkar (54) and Raina (41*) to help India get over the line and level the series 1-1.
#2 Galle – 2015
In 2015, India and Sri Lanka played a Test after 5 years and it was the farewell series for Kumar Sangakkara. It was also Virat Kohli’s first full series as Test captain.
After losing the toss on a raging turner, India dominated most part of the Test match. First, they bowled the Lankans out for 183 as Ashwin picked up a six-wicket haul. Then they secured a big lead of 192 runs as Dhawan (134) and Kohli (104) scored brilliant tons.
At 95/5, Sri Lanka’s second innings seemed to be panning out in a similar fashion like the first, but a superb, counter-attacking 162 from Dinesh Chandimal helped the hosts set a target of 175. It was not a big total but it was a tricky one and India were still favourites to chase it down.
With 175 to defend and a fourth-innings pitch aiding him, Rangana Herath wreaked havoc as Sri Lanka completed a dramatic turnaround to win by 75 runs. India were bowled out for 112 to concede a 1-0 lead. However, they bounced back by winning the next two Tests to clinch the series.
#1 Colombo (SSC) - 2015
With the series tied at 1-1, it was turning out to be a closely contested series in 2015. In the third Test, Sri Lanka opted to bowl first on a surface which had a decent covering of grass. The move seemed to have worked very well as the hosts had India on the mat at 180/7 in the first innings.
But a superb recovery led by Pujara (who carried his bat with a memorable 145) and Mishra (59) helped India get to a par total of 312. Ishant Sharma, who was charged up after being involved in a verbal-battle with Dhamika Prasad (while batting) bowled superbly as he took 5/54 to help India bowl the hosts out for 201.
With a lead of 111, India put up 274 in the second innings with the help of contributions from the middle and the lower middle-order (Ashwin and Rohit Sharma scored 50s). Sri Lanka were set a target of 386. They needed to bat for about 110 overs.
By the end of the fourth day, the Test match looked as if it was headed only one way – India’s way as the Lankans were 67/3 at the close of play. However a brilliant 135-run partnership between Angelo Mathews (110) and Kusal Perera (70) ignited hopes of an unlikely Sri Lanka win. But an ill-advised reverse-sweep minutes before tea led to Perera’s downfall and opened the floodgates. Eventually, the hosts were all-out for 268 as they handed India a 117-run win which helped them win their first series in Sri Lanka since 1993.