Nayan Mongia shares his memories of the 'painful' experience on the 1997 tour of Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, July 22, 2021

'A painful experience'

Sai Mohan

Mumbai: The 1997 tour of Sri Lanka would forever be remembered for the marathon 576-run partnership between Sanath Jayasuriya (340) and Roshan Mahanama (225). The high-scoring two-Test series was a dull drab series, but ensured a heavy revision of the record books. Even Muttiah Muralidaran and Anil Kumble could not weave their magic on the flat surfaces.  
India's wicketkeeper on that tour, Nayan Mongia, spoke to and shared his memories of the 'painful' experience.
"We went into the tour with an extremely positive frame of mind because Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and even Azharuddin were in good knick. They had scored heavily during the Asia Cup which was held just prior to the Tests. Also we had players who had done well there before and knew the conditions really well," recalled Mongia. | 1985 Recap | 1993 Recap | Scorecards: India in Sri Lanka 1997

  • Mahanama and Jayasuriya (576-run stand) broke the following major records:
  • a) first-ever 500-run partnership in Test cricket,
  • b) highest partnership for the 2nd wicket in Test cricket,
  • c) highest partnership for any wicket in Test cricket,
  • d) highest partnership in Tests against India,
  • e) longest partnership for any wicket.
  • It was the first time in the history when a partnership remained unbroken throughout 2 complete days. (Sobers and Worrell in 1959/60 batted throughout 2 days but with an hour lost to rain)
  • Nilesh Kularni became the first-ever bowler to claim a wicket off his very first delivery when he dismissed Marvan Atapattu
  • Mahela Jayawardene made his Test debut during the first Test and scored 66 runs
  • Debutant Debashish Mohanty claimed a four-wicket haul during the second Test.
  • Jayasuriya's highest score in Tests was just 113 at the start of the series. He ended it with two scores of 340 and 199.
  • When Marvan Atapattu got to 29 runs during the second innings of the second Test, he surpassed his previous highest score of 26. 
  • But the Indian team forgot that the flat Colombo tracks also meant that the bowlers would have a tough task.
    "After we declared at 537 at Premadasa (in the first Test), we were confident of our chances with three spinners in our ranks. When Nilesh Kulkarni became the first-ever bowler to claim a wicket off his very first delivery, we were pumped up and knew that Sri Lanka were on the back foot,'' said Mongia as he traced that historic but frustrating moment. 
    Because thereafter Mongia was keeping wickets for almost two and a half days while the Indian spinners were getting battered by the duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama.
    ''We were all so happy for Nilesh and knew that our chances of going 1-0 up in the series were really strong. I was involved in the dismissal and was the first to congratulate the spinner. However, we didn't expect to be struck by the Jayasuriya-Mahanama stand,'' said Mongia who even now sounds exasparated.
    Read this to understand what Sachin Tendular and his side went through during those two and half days of harrowing experience at Colombo: ''It is so difficult to explain what the 11 of us went through during three days on the field. It was a painful experience and it became monotonous to watch the same batsmen in the middle for so many hours. There was nothing happening for us, we tried everything possible and to make matters worse, it was so hot and humid out there,'' Mongia recounts.
    In a veiled attack at the then Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunha, Mongia hit out at his tactics in the Test. "The spinners could not extract any turn whatsoever and the pitch was so slow that the turning ball was also countered on the front foot. Arjuna Ranatunga who was the captain of Lanka refused to declare because he wanted his team to break all possible records. We lost all motivation to play because the opposition was playing for just records."

    The second Test at Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) was slightly better because the conditions there offered some swing.
    "The pitches in Lanka in early 90s were a lot more sporting and it was bizarre that we were asked to play on two slow, flat surfaces. The second Test (at SSC) started with encouraging signs as debutant Debashish Mohanty took four wickets and impressed everyone. I remember that he was swinging the ball prodigiously and inflicted new life into the series. However, once there wasn't movement off the pitch, it was the same story."
    India had an outside chance of chasing down the total in the second innings of the SSC Test. But India decided to play safe. And thus ended a boring series from spectators' point of view.
    Mongia summed up the failure of the team thus: "Javagal Srinath's shoulder injury kept him out of the series and we missed him dearly as none of the other seamers had any pace. Prasad, Kuruvilla and Mohanty depended on swing and we needed someone like Srinath in those pitches which had no life."