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.
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 :)