Monday, July 28, 2008

Sri Lanka's propensity for records...

Just what is it about Sri Lanka and records? Granted that they have had reasonable success in Tests and one-dayers in recent years, but you wouldn't call them a world-beating side. They would appear to rely too heavily on Murali in the bowling department (and to some extent, Vaas), and Mahela-Sangakkara in batting. So their successes have been sporadic. And yet, they have this penchant for eye-popping performances, and setting records of all kinds!

Here are a few examples:
  • The highest Test innings of all time, their 952/6d against India in 1997, as well as the highest ODI innings of all time - 443/9 vs Netherlands.
  • Murali of course - highest Test wicket-taker of all time, 746 and counting. Murali will soon cross Akram to become the highest wicket-taker in ODIs as well.
  • Murali again - most 5WIs and 10WMs in Test history, and assorted other records stemming from his prolific wicket-taking (like most LBWs or whatever, too many to list).
  • Massive individual scores like Mahela Jayawardene's 374 and Jayasuriya's 340.
  • The two biggest partnerships of all time in Tests: Mahela and Sanga's 624 vs South Africa, and Jaya-Mahanama's 576 vs India.
  • The all-time best ODI bowling performance: ChamindaVaas' 8-19 vs. Zimbabwe.
  • Vaas' match above is also the shortest completed ODI ever - Sri Lanka "chased" down the target of 39 in about 4 overs, making it 20 overs in all in the game! The next two in the list of shortest games also feature Sri Lanka, beating Canada and Zimbabwe (again).
  • Sri Lanka have this propensity to absolutely destroy weak opponents. The lowest three innings totals in ODIs were all inflicted by Sri Lanka - in fact it's the same three matches referred to in the above bullet.
  • Chaminda Vaas' hat-trick off the first three balls of the match vs. Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup.
  • Jayasuriya has an array of stunning innings in ODIs, the fastest 50 (17 balls), the most sixes in an innings (11) as well as career, and some of the fastest 100s as well.
For a country that is still young in cricketing terms, that's a terrific collection of achievements. Some of these are sheer bursts of brilliance, others come from longevity and maintaining performance over long periods. How do we explain that? It's not as if the average Sri Lankan is athletically or physically gifted (as you might claim for a West Indian). Nor do they have a particularly strong sporting culture and training systems (a la Australia), that I know of.

Does it have something to do with being regarded as "minnows" for a long time? Maybe that hurts your pride so much that when you get the chance, you absolutely make it count, rub it in - witness the 952/6d innings, when they went on batting and didn't bother to declare early enough to force a result. Or it is just coincidence that they've produced a small number of brilliant individual performers like Murali and Jaya who keep setting records? Does it have something to do with being an island nation, and the resultant implications on culture? Can we compare them with the West Indies, which has similarly had brilliant individuals, but also formidable world-beating teams?

I must admit I am not satisfied with any of these "explanations". Why hasn't New Zealand produced similar feats for example, despite being somewhat similar to Sri Lanka in many of the above respects? Or have they, except that they chose rugby instead?

I wonder if someone could do a thesis on this topic and enlighten us all :)


RR said...

Good collation.Would hold good for most countries/ many players.The truth of the matter is that SL as a team is good only in its own backyard.Outside of their country and to some extent the sub continet, they need to perform much better than what they have done. Most of the records which you have posted make impressive reading but, if looked at in isolation does not mean much as they have come at various lengths of time. The only time they were consistent was in the 1996 WC period.

Neeran Karnik said...

@RR: I don't think this holds true for most countries - and besides, most countries have played cricket for much longer. Many of these are all-time records across countries and eras - the highest scores in both Tests & ODIs, highest partnerships, highest wicket-taker, etc. It may be true that SL play superbly at home, but so do many others (like Australia, or even India). SL pitches may be flat, but so are Indian and West Indian pitches. I do agree (and said so in the post) that SL as a team haven't been particularly impressive. That's what makes their eye-popping individual achievements more fascinating.

Ravi Kumar said...

Have to disagree with lumping SL in the same class as India and Australia - first test result or not. SL have been known to be minnow bullies and home wicket bullies. The fact that almost all of their best deeds have come either at home or against minnows underscores that point. You forgot, for instance, their record for the highest T20 score, v Kenya. But outside of that, the T20 Champ'ship was pretty ordinary for SL. On the other hand, teams like Australia and India are the top two test teams in the world in terms of away matches won in recent times. Australia, for instance have won everywhere in the last few years, and India are a notch below having failed to win only at NZ.

Neeran Karnik said...

@Ravi: I'm not trying to compare SL's performance overall against any other team. I'm just curious as to their propensity for breaking records. You're quite right that they do it against mediocre opposition. But most other teams also get their chance to play against mediocre opposition. Somehow they don't seem to be sufficiently motivated to do what the Lankans do. And I'm wondering why the Lankans have that apparent ruthlessness against the minnows. India's never managed to dismiss a minnow team for under 50, and romp home in 5-10 overs. Neither has Australia. In so many years of Test cricket, including the early years when South Africa were absolute walkovers, Australia never scored 900 against them, not even with Bradman in their ranks. And look at the partnership records - they got stuck in, and kept going forever!

As I started off saying in my post, these records haven't made SL a great Test/ODI team. But somehow, even the great teams like West Indies of the 70s-80s and Australia of the 90s didn't set such staggering records.