Long before the format of T20 came into existence, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka batted in the 50-over format just like batsman do in the shortest format of the game today. They started batting this way in the 1996 World Cup, which Sri Lanka won against various odds.
This was a rare sight then to see both batsmen attacking the bowlers. In those days such jobs were generally given to pinch-hitters. For those who don’t know, a pinch-hitter is a bowler who is sent up the order just to slog and increase the run rate. But in the case of the two Sri Lankan openers, both were proper batsmen who batted like pinch-hitters.
In the 1992 WC, New Zealand’s Dipak Patel started a new practice of a spinner opening the bowling. The antics of the two Sri Lankan batsmen did the same in the 1996 WC.
Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana soon became known for demolishing bowling attacks in their style. It is believed that the Indian pace bowler Manoj Prabhakar’s career was ended by the duo in the league match of the 1996 World Cup.
As expected, the duo continued their style after the ’96 WC too. The next series Sri Lanka played was the Singer Cup in Singapore which also had India and Pakistan. Jayasuriya was considered more destructive of the two. This was proved after Kaluwitharana couldn’t do much with the bat in the series.
In the first match of the Singer Cup, Jayasuriya blasted the Pakistani bowling line-up as he set a new world record for the fastest hundred in ODIs in just 48 balls [this record was broken in the same year by Shahid Afridi in 37 balls against Sri Lanka]. He broke the record of Mohammed Azharuddin by a long way who had reached the triple figure in 62 balls against New Zealand in 1988.
Sri Lanka won the match and it seemed they would clinch the series. The team met Pakistan in the final who were all out on just 215. It seemed the chase would be a cake-walk for Sri Lanka considering their form. I remember commentator Charu Sharma wondering if the match would end in just 30 overs.
When Jayasuriya was batting, it looked like Sri Lanka would reach the target even before 30 overs as the batsman, this time, broke the record of the fastest 50 in just 17 balls! The previous record holder was Simon O’Donnell who had scored half century in 18 balls against Sri Lanka in 1990.
While Jayasuriya was batting as if he the opposition is a school team, Kaluwitharana, his partner, was kept quiet and away from the strike as well. He was eventually out when the team score was 70.
Strangely, Kaluwitharana’s contribution in the 70-run partnership was 0 in 11 balls! I am yet to see any such incident where two batmen, especially openers, had a partnership of well above 50 and the contribution of one of the two is nil! [In case somebody knows about any such occurrence, please enlighten me].
But there was more surprise in store. The match turned out to be a major surprise for everyone as Sri Lanka were all out for just 172 despite Jayasuriya scoring 78 in just 28 balls. None of the batsmen could do much and Pakistan made a dramatic comeback to lift the Singer Cup.