“The Indo-Sri Lankan cricketing bonhomie has traversed a glorious journey of more than a hundred years. It is the embodiment of mutual respect and admiration. May it strengthen the cricketing ties and bring forth the beauty of the fascinating contests in the years to come”
India and Sri Lanka have a friendly relationship, which is deep in mutual respect and admiration for many years. There are similarities in their culture, social ethos and in the fascination with the noble game of Cricket. The game has been played in both the neighbouring countries since the 1880s and is rich in tradition. Cricket has been the bridge, across which the ambassadors of goodwill and peace have traversed to create harmony between the two countries.
While the Presidency Cricket matches were being played in India in the 1880s, Cricket in Sri Lanka was being played by the visiting English and Australian teams at the Colombo Oval, now called the P Sara Oval. The first exchange in Cricket terms between the two countries was in 1903, when a representative Indian team from Elphinstone College, Bombay toured Sri Lanka.
Later in 1926, the first ever first class match was played at Nondescripts Ground in Colombo, between Ceylon XI and Bombay XI, which had in its ranks, C K Nayudu, who was later to be India’s first test captain. The first Sri Lankan team toured India in 1932-33 and put on display their enthralling cricketing skills before the Indian spectators.
The Indian team reciprocated by touring the Emerald Isle in 1945 under Vijay Merchant. Further tours were undertaken by India in 1956-57 and in 1973-74.
The Sri Lankans toured India in 1964-65 under Michael Tissera and recorded their first ever victory against their neighbours.
The friendly relationship between the two cricket teams was so deeply entrenched that a tournament called the M J Gopalan trophy was instituted in 1952. It was played annually between the Ceylon and Madras teams, right till the time Sri Lanka achieved test status.
India and Sri Lanka played their first ever Test match in 1982, befittingly at Madras (now Chennai).
The match ended in draw and the highlight of the game was Duleep Mendis scoring centuries with identical scores of 105 runs in either innings. India won the first-ever One Day International Series, which followed later, by a margin of 3-0. The Indian team undertook its first official test tour of the Emerald Isle in 1985.
In a spirited performance, Sri Lanka recorded its maiden Test victory in the 2nd Test at the P Sara Oval, by beating India by 149 runs.
It then fought hard to draw the 3rd Test and clinched an unprecedented series win. India’s retribution was both brutal and stunning. It had two comprehensive wins at Nagpur and Cuttack in the Sri Lankan tour of India in 1986-87. The series victory was achieved through the brilliant batting of Dilip Vengsarkar. These exploits of the Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers caught the imagination of the crowd and lot of games were subsequently played across formats, much to the delight of the gathered multitude.
The South Asian solidarity was manifested in the form of the Asia Cup limited overs competition which was instituted in 1984 by India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan with Bangladesh joining in the second edition. The relations between the two cricketing nations, India and Sri Lanka was cemented with the co-hosting of the Cricket World Cup in 1996.
During the tournament – Australia and West Indies refused to play in Sri Lanka citing security concerns. In an act of true friendship and support, a combined Indo-Pak XI team played the Sri Lankan team at Colombo.
It proved to the world that Cricket transcends any political differences. This was the true manifestation of the deep rooted relationship which the teams shared. Memories of this act live on to this day.
The two nations once again co-hosted the World Cup in 2011.
The cricket grounds and the pitches in both India and Sri Lanka are very similar in nature. The grounds are normally full for most matches and the pitches are dry and dusty.
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Eden Gardens in Kolkata and the Chepauk in Chennai are not much dissimilar to the Singhalese Sports Club and Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Pallekelle in Kandy and the Galle stadium.
Intriguingly, the P Sara Oval in Colombo and the Mohali Cricket Stadium in India, are the lone grounds in each country that aid fast bowling. These grounds have witnessed much of the great games played between the two countries. The contest between the two countries has been one of pertinacious fighting and gritty defense, but laced with the air of cordial friendship.
The essence of both the Indian and Sri Lankan teams has been the strength of their batting and spin bowling across test matches, ODIs and T20s.
In the Test matches, the Indian batting luminaries like Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli have put on stellar performances while Maninder Singh, Venkatapathy Raju, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have spun India to many a great victory against Sri Lanka.
For the Lankan Lions, Duleep Mendis, Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have created magic with the willow and Muttaiah Muralidharan and Rangana Herath have been the spin wizards.
Over the years, Kapil Dev and Chaminda Vaas have been the tragic fast bowling heroes, who have given many a lion hearted performance on unfavourable wickets.
The ODIs have thrown up some fascinating contests between the two teams. Sri Lanka shocked India twice in the 1996 world cup on the back of swashbuckling batting from Sanath Jayasuria and Aravinda De Silva.
They then went on their merry way to lift the trophy.
Meanwhile, the Indian team has beautiful memories of the hot evening in 2011, when a soaring six from their beloved captain, MS Dhoni against Sri Lanka, won the final of the 2011 World Cup for India. It was the perfect gift for Sachin Tendulkar, a player who is much revered in both lands. Both the teams are still fondly spoken by the people on either side of the Palk Strait.
The T20 format witnessed the two teams facing off in the T20 World Cup final in 2014.
Sri Lanka defeated Indian to lift the coveted trophy. It was a befitting swansong for Jayawardene and Sangakkara.
My personal experience of this beautiful relationship between the two teams is one of near tangible emotions. As a ten year old, I witnessed the test match between them at Barabati Stadium, Cuttack in 1986. The stadium was packed and the crowd was keen to see the Indian team play against the Sri Lankans. People discussed about Gavaskar and the Sri Lankan players in admiration. Indian won the match by innings and 67 runs.
Later, I visited the hotel in Bhubaneswar where the Indian Team and the Sri Lankan team were staying. I met the stars of the day like Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Vengsarkar, Duleep Mendis, Aravinda De Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga and they happily signed my autograph book.
Many years later in 2017, I travelled to Colombo, to watch the test match between Sri Lanka and India at the SSC. The stands were full and the there was a lively band playing while the teams played at the historic ground. People spoke in revered tones about Kohli and the Rangana Herath.
Ironically, Indian too won this match by an innings and 53 runs.
During my stay at the hotel, I met Virat Kohli, Ashwin, Rangana Hearth and other members of both the teams. The players were very friendly and signed autographs for me. It was a surreal experience for me and evoked a sense of Déjà vu. The two sets of autographs, signed 31 years apart, in two cities across the Palk Strait, are the treasures of my journey across the bridge called cricket that unites India and Sri Lanka.
The Indo-Sri Lankan cricketing bonhomie has traversed a glorious journey of more than a hundred years. It is the embodiment of mutual respect and admiration. May it strengthen the cricketing ties and bring forth the beauty of the fascinating contests in the years to come.