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India beat Sri Lanka in record-breaking run fest, way before run fests became a norm

Mohammad Azharuddin (left) played an innings much ahead of its times © AFP (File Photo)
Mohammad Azharuddin (left) played an innings much ahead of its times © AFP (File Photo)

Runs were scored at a breakneck speed at Wankhede Stadium on January 17, 1987. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a record-breaking One-Day International, the kind of which would be replicated many a time in the decades that followed.

 

A team scoring over seven runs and more per over became commonplace after Sanath Jayasuriya redefined batting at the top of the order in ODIs. Things changed further as the laws kept changing and in the past decade, Twenty20 has changed the concept of big scoring for good. Targets of 360 have been chased down easily, and even a target 435 has been overhauled.

However, they were not so commonplace in 1987 with no PowerPlays, no bouncer-restrictions, less stringent wide-rules, and other equal rules: neither India nor Sri Lanka had ever scored 300 in an ODI, and once anything over six an over needed to be chased down, it was generally considered nigh impossible. Sri Lanka were 1-3 down in the series, and when he won the toss Duleep Mendis chose to bowl in the dead-rubber match.

 

Azhar leads Indian charge

India started in their usual fashion, with Sunil Gavaskar holding an end up and Krishnamachari Srikkanth going all-out after Rumesh Ratnayake, Ravi Ratnayeke, and Ashantha de Mel. Runs came at a breakneck pace before a helpless Mendis turned to his vice-captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who had already won the first ODI at Green Park with his four for 14.

When Srikkanth eventually fell to Ranatunga’s military-medium paced bowling for a bombastic 27-ball 46 with eight fours, India had already put up 67 on the board. Kapil Dev held back Raman Lamba and sent out Mohammad Azharuddin to lift the tempo further. Ranatunga also claimed Gavaskar for a 35-ball 25 with three fours when the score was 88: this was when the fun began.

The in-form Dilip Vengsarkar walked out. Mendis brought on Graeme Labrooy, who was carted all over the ground; every bowler was treated with utter disdain as both batsmen made merry at the cost of the unfortunate Sri Lankan bowlers. The pair added 115 in a shade above 15 overs, before Ratnayake eventually claimed Vengsarkar for a 49-ball 52 with three fours and a six.

It was Azhar, however, who defined the pace of the match: while Vengsarkar, and later Lamba, went after the bowling, Azhar played an innings that was way ahead of the times. He played very few dot balls and ran for frantic singles, causing the Sri Lankan fielders to panic and mis-field. Only Roshan Mahanama, who had fielded brilliantly throughout the series, kept his calm and did his best to keep a check on the Indian scoring.

India’s highest score of 282 for five in 47 overs at Albion in 1982-83 was bettered just before Lamba got out. Batting in his characteristic flamboyant style, Lamba hit four fours and a six in his 37-ball 39. Azhar had reached his maiden hundred just before that, and eventually finished on an unbeaten 94-ball 108 that contained only eight boundaries (which meant that he had scored 76 in 86 balls only in singles).

India finished on 299 for four, that too in 40 overs. All five bowlers were put to the sword, with Ranatunga (10-0-59-2) being the only one to finish with an economy rate of less than six. Poor Mendis was so ruffled by the onslaught that he did not dare to bring on Don Anurasiri, his left-arm spinner.

 

A spirited chase

When Mendis had elected to field, he had probably banked on the fact that Sri Lankans have always been good chasers: they had scored 276 for four chasing 329 against Australia in the 1975 World Cup; 288 for nine chasing 339 against Pakistan in the 1983 World Cup; and 286 chasing 333 for nine against England in the same tournament.

Mahanama and Sidath Wettimuny set about chasing 300 at 7.50 runs an over; when Raju Kulkarni bowled Wettimuny, Mendis promoted Ranatunga, who carted both Kapil and Kulkarni; it did not help that Kapil picked up an injury in his shin and had to cut down his run-up and pace. The Indian captain, however, carried on.

It was Madan Lal who removed the dangerous-looking Arjuna after the latter had scored a 22-ball 29. Kapil did not hold back his spinners, and introduced both in quick succession. Mendis himself joined Mahanama, and he looked in supreme control as the pair took the score to 147 for two.

Roshan Mahanama desrvedly won the Man of the Match prize for the match © Getty Images (File Photo)
Roshan Mahanama desrvedly won the Man of the Match prize for the match © Getty Images (File Photo)

It was then that Mendis drove one to long-on. Normal batsmen would have jogged down to the other end with ease, but not Mendis: he started off at an easy pace and towards the end it seemed that he was sprinting to make it to the other end, but his massive bulk fell well short as the throw came in. He had scored a 28-ball 30.

Roy Dias began with a vengeance but his cameo came to an end quickly as when he was stumped off Shivlal Yadav. Sri Lanka were 174 for four, and though the four Sri Lankan batsmen dismissed had scored 88 between them off only 77 balls, none of them had gone past thirty.

What they needed was a blitz – the kind that came off Ashanka Gurusinha’s bat subsequently. He hit Yadav out of the firing line and then went after Madan Lal. A desperate Kapil brought himself back despite his injury, but to no avail. Gurusinha took advantage of Kapil’s reduced pace and hit him out of the ground, and with Mahanama’s solidity at the other end, it suddenly seemed that Sri Lanka were in the chase.

Gurusinha eventually fell to Kulkarni for a 34-ball 52 that included five fours and two sixes. Mahanama hit a few blows and was unfortunately run out for a 91-ball 98. Just like Azhar, his priceless innings was based mostly on singles: he had run for 70 of them in 84 balls. Unlike Azhar’s, the innings was played under immense pressure and had almost culminated in a fairytale finish against the superior of the two attacks.

The steam had not gone out of the Sri Lankan chase yet: with de Mel running hard Ratnayake hit out lustily. At this stage Kapil, with a bandage of sorts wrapped around his shin, was almost dragging himself to the crease: nevertheless, he bowled a yorker from a five-pace run-up to clean up de Mel.

Ratnayake continued with the onslaught, but Ratnayeke mostly played and missed. Sri Lanka went past their earlier highest score of 288 (in 60 overs) but eventually fell short of the target. They finished on 289 for seven, and none of the Indian bowlers had managed to finish with an economy rate under six.

Mahanama deservedly won the Man of the Match award. The chase set the tone that would continue in the 1990s and 2000s and would lift the benchmark of high scores forever.

What followed?

-          India finally made their first 300 against Pakistan at Sharjah in 1995-96. They scored 305 for five. Sri Lanka reached the ‘landmark’ much earlier, chasing down Zimbabwe’s 312 for four in the 1992 World Cup at New Plymouth: they scored 313 for seven in 49.2 overs.

-          Despite the recent deluge of runs, Sri Lanka has bettered their run rate of 7.22 in this match only four times in an innings where they have scored 250 runs or more: two of these have come against Netherlands and Kenya. For India, the count is eleven, though two of them have been against Bermuda and Hong Kong.

-          The match run rate of 7.35 was not bettered in a match not interrupted by rain only in the famous Australia-South Africa match where the latter chased down 435.

-          Sri Lanka maintained their reputation as great chasers: they had intimidated India to bat first in the 1996 World Cup semifinal on a broken pitch and went on to become the first ever side to win a World Cup final batting second a few days afterwards. Both Mahanama and Gurusinha were members of that squad.

-          It took some time for Azhar to go past that 108-mark: his next two hundreds were 108s as well, and it wasn’t until August 1997 that he scored a hundred that was not 108. In just over a year he scored three more non-108 ODI hundreds, but did not score any more.

Brief scores:

 

India 299 for 4 in 40 overs (Mohammad Azharuddin 108*, Dilip Vengsarkar 52, Krishnamachari Srikkanth 46) beat Sri Lanka 289 for 7 in 40 overs (Roshan Mahanama 98, Ashanka Gurusinha 52) by 10 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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