Sri Lanka return to Hove this weekend when they face the Sharks in a T20 warm-up game on Sunday prior to their international against England at the Kia Oval next Tuesday.
It’s their first visit since a remarkable game in 2006 when Sussex debutant Ollie Rayner wrote his name in the county’s record books by becoming only the sixth player in Sussex’s history at the time, and first for 86 years, to score a century on his debut for the county.
It was a scenario that looked highly unlikely when Rayner walked out to bat on a cold, grey Saturday – the third day of the match – with Sussex 98 for 6 in reply to Sri Lanka’s massive score of 521 for 5 declared.
The game was going nowhere, and the Sri Lankan players seemed more pre-occupied finding as many warm layers as they could on to protect themselves against the Spring chill.
Rayner had joined the staff that year predominantly as an off-spin bowler. He’d never even scored a 50 in the second team before but against an attack led by Lasith Malinga he settled in and by tea had reached 73 not out. It was then that Rayner got a pep talk from an unlikely source.
Sitting quietly outside the dressing room, he was surprised to find the great Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakarra wandering up to him.
“It was incredible,” he recalled. “I was just sitting on the balcony and he came up to me, told me I was playing well and kept urging me on, saying 'you've only got 27 more runs to get. Not a lot was going through my head when I was out there. I backed myself, tried to be positive and thought there was no point crabbing around."
Slowly but surely, Rayner ticked off the runs until his 12th boundary brought up his century. "The whole experience was just overwhelming,” he remembers. “It didn’t sink in for ages until someone told me about the record. Everyone around me is making a big fuss and I'm sitting there thinking 'what happened?'”
He was out shortly afterwards for 101 but a place in the history books was his.