If you want an attractive batsman, do not look beyond Roy Dias © Getty Images
If you want an attractive batsman, do not look beyond Roy Dias © Getty Images

It all started with Somachandra de Silva routing India in World Cup 1979. Since then India-Sri Lanka contests have been studded with many a brilliant performance. Be it Rumesh Ratnayeke’s 4 for 76 and 5 for 49 at P Sara Oval, Dilip Vengsarkar’s epic 166 at Cuttack, Venkatapathy Raju’s 6 for 12 at Chandigarh, Sanath Jayasuriya’s overwhelming 340, Ajantha Mendis’ mystique throughout the 2008 series, Virender Sehwag’s ruthless double-hundreds or VVS Laxman’s incredible fourth-innings hundred the last time the sides met, there have been some spectacular shows with bat or ball that would rank among the very best in the history of the sport. ALSO READ: India vs Sri Lanka 2015: 5 Indian players to watch out for

But what about the forgotten ones? What about the cameos or the short bursts that did not result in victories, but brought the crowd to their feet? Seldom will history remember them — for often have they not amounted to victories or substantial contributions — but eye-witnesses will. Here is a list:

1. Roy Dias 97: September 21, 1982: It was the first Test between the two sides, and is usually remembered for Duleep Mendis’ 105 in each innings — still the highest identical scores in a Test. However, when Roy Dias walked out, Sri Lanka were 6 for 1 after conceding a 220-run lead.

There have been greater Sri Lankan batsmen than Dias, but there was probably none as attractive. He was classical, he was wristy, his timing was impeccable, and his strokeplay was dazzling. On his day Dias could tear any bowling apart, and on that day at Chepauk he tore the Indian bowling attack to ribbons.

What was more incredible was the fact that his 97 took a mere 108 balls despite slowing down towards the end of his innings. Ravi Ratnayeke scored a mere 6 in the second-wicket stand of 41; and when Dias eventually fell, the score read a mere 157 for 3.

2. Dilip Vengsarkar 98*: September 4, 1985: After India were bowled out for 218 by Ashantha de Mel, hundreds from Ranjan Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga gave Sri Lanka a 129-run lead. India looked settled at 130 for 2, but with Lalchand Rajput and Sunil Gavaskar falling to Rumesh Ratnayeke, India looked in trouble.

Ravi Shastri batted on grittily on Day Five, but eventually the onus fell on Dilip Vengsarkar. The tail did not come to his aid, but he toiled on. India were 229 for 9 when Maninder Singh joined Vengsarkar. There was an hour to go with India a hundred runs ahead, but Maninder hung on resolutely, not only helping add 22 but also batting out 45 minutes. Vengsarkar was eventually left stranded on a 405-minute 98. Sri Lanka, chasing 123 in 11 overs, gave up at 61 for 4 after 8.

3. Ashanka Gurusinha 52*: November 24, 1990: The Test belonged almost entirely to Venkatapathy Raju: after India put up 288 on a rank turner, Raju bowled out Sri Lanka for 82 (they were 50 for 2) with figures of 17.5-13-12-6. He had two more wickets in the second innings, and finished with match figures of 53.5-38-37-8.

Ashanka Gurusinha, however, refused to give up. With wickets tumbling around him in the first innings, Gurusinha stood firm for 181 minutes, facing 159 balls for a resolute 52. No Indian, not even Raju, could go past him. He scored 63.4% of the total — still the fifth on the all-time list for complete innings. ALSO READ: India’s likely XI for 1st Test vs Sri Lanka at Galle

4. Dilhara Fernando 5 for 42: August 15, 2001: An oft-forgotten spell: Sanath Jayasuriya put India in at SSC, but the tourists looked solid at 155 for 3. Then Jayasuriya opted for the new ball: the fourth ball from Dilhara Fernando was a huge in-swinger that crashed into the stumps to remove Mohammad Kaif.

The wicket gave Fernando the much-needed push. A triple-blow followed, on either side of stumps: Sourav Ganguly, Hemang Badani, and Sameer Dighe were all caught-behind; he hit Javagal Srinath’s hand, forcing him to retire hurt; and cleaned up Harbhajan Singh. India were bowled out for 187 and lost comprehensively.

5. Muttiah Muralitharan 67: August 24, 2001: India conceded a 42-run lead at Kandy, but their seamers — young Zaheer Khan and the veteran Venkatesh Prasad — brought them back into the Test, sharing the first 9 wickets between them. At 157 for 9 Sri Lanka led by a mere 199 when Ruchira Perera joined Muttiah Muralitharan.

Murali batted like there was no tomorrow. With an assortment of cross-batted hoicks (the length never mattered) he massacred Prasad and Zaheer on his way to his maiden Test fifty, and obtained tumultuous applause from his home crowd even when he defended.

Perhaps the most ridiculous effort came off Sourav Ganguly, when Murali leapt out several steps to pad one away. Ganguly himself confused everyone by having as many as eight men manning the fence when Murali was on a mere 11. Murali scored 67 in 65 balls. The last wicket amounted to an 87-ball 64, Ruchira contributing a mere 6. India’s target was 264.

6. Chaminda Vaas 11 maidens on the trot: December 3, 2005: Cyclone Baaz washed out over three days of the Test. When play eventually got underway, the batsmen found it was a slow, low, ‘undercooked’ pitch (Wisden). There was no chance of a result.

Vaas bowled his heart Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag on Day Four, and finished on 9-3-15-2. The next day he strangled both Sachin Tendulkar (22 in 126 balls) and VVS Laxman (5 in 43); the pair added 11 in 11.5 overs, and a 4-over stand of 1 between Laxman and Ganguly followed. ALSO READ: Chaminda Vaas bowls 11 consecutive maidens against India on MS Dhoni’s Test debut

Vaas had meanwhile removed Rahul Dravid. He continued the stranglehold, and eventually sent down 11 consecutive maidens — evoking memories of Bapu Nadkarni. At one point his figures read 20-14-15-3 before he eventually conceded a run, and almost immediately got another wicket. Harbhajan hit a boundary off him, and Vaas finished with 21-14-20-4 as India were bowled out for 167.

7. Irfan Pathan 93: December 12, 2005: It was evident that the Kotla pitch was taking turn: India were 254 for 3 before Murali (7 for 100) bowled them out for 290; Anil Kumble (6 for 72) hit back, and Sri Lanka were bowled out for 230. Then Dravid pulled off a masterstroke, sending Irfan Pathan to open with Gambhir.

The idea was to go after the bowlers before the ball got old and started taking turn. Irfan executed it to perfection: he smashed a six off Murali’s first over (second off the innings) and hit another shortly afterwards before breaking into a flurry of boundaries. By the time Pathan fell for a 143-ball 93 India were 178 for 4. Sri Lanka lost by 188 runs.

8. VVS Laxman 104: December 18, 2005: This is the third entry from the 2005-06 series. This time Lasith Malinga teamed up with Murali to run through India’s top order, leaving them in tatters at 97 for 5. However, they still had to conquer Laxman.

Laxman dropped anchor as he let young Dhoni score 49 in an 86-run stand. Then he took control, and by the time Farveez Maharoof sent one through his pads to hit timber, he had already scored 104 and had added 125 more with Irfan. India eventually scored 398 before Harbhajan and Kumble led them to a 259-run win.

9. Chanaka Welegedara 4 for 87: November 16, 2009: It was India’s home ground, and Dhoni batted on a flat track. Chanaka Welegedara (whose initials UWMBCA are the longest in history) was playing only his second Test; in his second over he deceived Gambhir into playing for a big out-swinger that held its line; the ball ran through the gate.

Sehwag was cramped for room and was trapped LBW. Three deliveries later the ball swung back in to hit top of off-stump to remove Tendulkar. Thanks to his ability to move the ball both in air and off the pitch off a perfect line and length, his figures read 3.4-1-12-3.

It was a pity Chanaka Welegedara did not turn out to be a long-term prospect for Sri Lanka © Getty Images
It was a pity Chanaka Welegedara did not turn out to be a long-term prospect for Sri Lanka © Getty Images

With Dhammika Prasad bowling Laxman for a duck the score read 32 for 4, but Dravid (177) and Dhoni (110) saved the day for India. Welegedara eventually ran one through Dravid’s gate as well, but it was too late in the day.

10. Virender Sehwag 109: July 20, 2010: Even if Sehwag had done nothing else in his career, he would have been remembered forever for his 201 not out and 293 against Sri Lanka. However, he had another innings — almost as spectacular — but not as remembered, probably because it was not a double-hundred, and neither did it result in a win.

It was Murali’s swansong, and after Sri Lanka put up 520, India needed a solid start from their famed line-up. Unfortunately, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman managed a mere 50 between them.

At the other end, of course, was Sehwag: his first fifty came from 63 balls and included 10 fours. Then he opened up, sweeping Murali’s doosra for four and smashing him straight for six — off consecutive balls. The second fifty took him 45 balls, and when he threw his wicket chasing an outrageously wide delivery from Welegedara, he had scored 109 from 118 balls. A whopping 82 of these had come in boundaries.

11. Suraj Randiv 5 for 82: August 7, 2010: There was yet another Sehwag 109, this time in 105 balls, in the first innings, but Suraj Randiv (4 for 80) restricted them to an 11-run lead. The Indian spinners made sure the target did not exceed 257.

Kumar Sangakkara attacked straight away. With Murali not around anymore, he opened bowling with Randiv. It took him six balls to strike: Sehwag played for the off-spin that was not there, and Mahela Jayawardene took an easy catch at slip.

Murali Vijay survived an LBW appeal, but it was Dravid who fell next: he played back, let the ball drop on the pitch, only to watch it roll towards the stumps. Vijay edged one through slip, survived two more LBW appeal (all off Randiv) before edging one to Mahela at leg slip. Ishant Sharma, sent at night-watchman, was caught at short mid-wicket next morning.

India’s score read 62 for 4 after 22 overs. Bowling unchanged, Randiv’s numbers read 11-2-23-4. He had Tendulkar dropped at short-leg when the great man was on 19. Laxman top-edged an uncharacteristic edge that flew over leg-slip.  Then Tendulkar gloved one and fell for 54. India were 171 for 5, Randiv’s numbers read 23-3-57-5, but he would not have anything else come his way. Laxman and Suresh Raina saw India home. If only someone had taken a single wicket at the other end…

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)