By Anjana Kaluarachchi
Retiring legend Mahela Jayawardene marks his 17th year in international cricket today (Saturday) as he made his Test debut against India way back in 1997 (August 2) as a 20-year-old.
He created all the headlines last week with a magnificent century at his ‘home’ turf, SSC, demonstrating the class of the player Sri Lanka is going to miss in less than a month’s time in the longest form of the game.
The elegant right hander is considered as the greatest captain Sri Lanka has ever produced. A classy batsman, a master tactician and a player extremely fortunate to have played in a period where the game was transforming into another level, Jayawardene has performed immensely well in all three formats.
Jayawardene remains in the sixth place of most runs scorers list in Test cricket with 11,953 runs having played in 147 Test matches. He also maintains the same position in ODI cricket with 11,681 runs in 420 matches.
His career has been decorated with a number of brilliant performances and achievements, but the following special moments will never be forgotten by the cricket fans all over the country.
The International debut of Jayawardene may be the luckiest debut a player has had in the history of Test cricket. Nor did it involve winning a Test against ICC’s top ranked side neither did he score a century or a double century. In fact, he had to wait more than four days to bat in the match as Sri Lanka scored the most number of runs in an innings to rewrite history books.
He was fortunate enough to join the fun of frustrating India, as Sri Lanka scored a mammoth 954-6 declared in reply to India’s 537-8 declared.
Jayawardene batting at number six on debut scored his maiden half century (66) and added 131 runs for the fifth wicket with great Aravinda de Silva, the man he later replaced in the National team.
Jayawardene also watched Sanath Jayasuriya scoring the first triple century by a Sri Lankan ‘live’ from R. Premadasa dressing room while also enjoying a double century by Roshan Mahanama.
Jayawardene scored his first double century after two years, only in his seventh match, against the same opposition (India). In nine years’ time he went past Jayasuriya’s score to register a new career best by a Sri Lankan, 374 runs in a match winning knock against South Africa at the SSC.
Caught Jayawardene bowled Muralitharan
The above mentioned mode of dismissal has been the most by a non-wicket keeping fielder and a bowler in the history of Test cricket. The saga started with Jayawardene’s debut match but the batsman who got out made it extra special.
It was the man who has the most number of runs, the most number of centuries, the most number of matches and the man who is worshiped as a demigod — Sachin Tendulkar.
Jayawardene had caught one off Muralitharan as a substitute fielder before that but it did not get into statistics.
Promotion and Galle Luck
After playing two Test matches against India, Jayawardene had to wait nine months to play another Test.
Jayawardene was promoted to number three position replacing Roshan Mahanama and he replied with twin half centuries to secure his place but the team ended up losing to New Zealand by 167 runs.
After the loss of the first match Sri Lanka were facing series defeat at home and it was important for them to win at Galle, which was considered as Sri Lanka’s fortress. Jayawardene replied with his maiden century (167 runs) where none of the other players could fathom the pitch to score at least 40 runs.
Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga was the second highest scorer for the home team with 36 while the second best score for the match came from Nathan Astle which was 53. It certainly reflected Jayawardene’s ability at a younger age.
He sealed his first man of the match award in Test cricket in that innings and 16-run victory which leveled the series.
Love with SSC
Jayewardene and SSC have a better love story than the fictional characters Romeo and Juliet.
It was his third Test in SSC in 1999 against India in a one off Test. India had posted 518-7 for the first innings and home teams were facing huge threat from India’s spin loaded bowling attack.
But the SSC had already started showing its affection to Jayewardene who captured his maiden Test wicket – India’s opener S. Ramesh.
Jayewardene reciprocated with 30 fours and two magnificent sixes to record his maiden double century (242) consuming 465 deliveries while batting trough the innings to avert danger.
Since then he has scored more than 5000 first class runs including 11 international centuries in his ‘home’ turf while also scoring his highest score of 374 there.
First England Tour and Lord’s Century
By the time Jayawardene made his debut Sri Lanka were already on top of the world with the magical ODI World Cup win in 1996. But in Test cricket the country had to achieve much.
Jayawardene wasn’t fortunate enough to play at Lord’s, the home of cricket or to score double figures in his first tour to the country where cricket was born. But he was fortunate enough to get involved in Sri Lanka’s first Test match win in England after one year from his debut match.
He had to wait four years to play in England again. This time in the place where every cricketer dreams of playing, the Lord’s.
Just 11 days to go for his 25th birthday Jayawardene was already in at number for in the 14th over as Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara were already back in the pavilion. On that day Jayawardene put his name up in the honors board with a magnificent 107 from 168 balls which was the fastest innings by a tourist in the match.
Since then he has scored eight centuries against England, most for a opposition team including two in Home of Cricket, Lord’s averaging 63.2 at the ground which is more than 10 runs high than his career average of 50.09.
His second ton in the venue came in a much needed situation as Sri Lanka were forced to follow on while tailing by 359 runs. Jayawardene scored a magnificent 119 while batting through 220 deliveries.
There have been several players who did play in the side after stepping down from captaincy, such as Sanath Jayasuriya, Maravan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara but once Jayawardene became captain he was the leader of the team throughout the career no matter if he was the captain or not.
Mahela Aiya (Maiya) was a registered name for him on the field and he was always the big brother of every player in the side.
Captaincy has made him better player too where he has scored 14 Test centuries and ten half centuries as captain including a triple century and two double tons while scoring four 150 plus scores. His average as captain is over 59 compared to his career average of 50.09.
Jayawardene is considered as a master tactician of the game where his leadership has several milestones that prove it.
Limited overs success
Jayawardane had the liberty of scoring winning run on his debut against Zimbabwe which was his only run in the match. Jayawardene was straight away promoted in the next match to his long time number four position where he scored 74, in the chase of 281 while adding two 73 run partnerships each with Sanath Jayasuriya and Ruwan Kalpage to guide Sri Lanka to series win.
After than Jayawardene failed miserably but he came back to form in the match which Sri Lanka wanted him to be.
It was the Carlton & United Series’ 8th match between England and Sri Lanka which is infamous for Ross Emerson incident involving Muralitharan.
Emerson calling Murali created much drama on the field. Eventually England scored 302 and Sri Lanka were facing an uphill task of chasing 300+. Jayawardene stepped up with a mouthwatering 120 from 111 balls to guide the chase which was eventually finished by Muralitharan himself.
Since then Jayawardene has scored 16 centuries as he amassed 11,681 runs in 420 ODIs (second only to Sanath Jayasuriya, in Sri Lanka). His 88-ball 103 in the World Cup final certainly was one of the great knocks. He also scored one in the semifinals of 2007 World Cup which earned him the title as a big match player.
Jayawardene is also the living proof that a classic Test batsman can be successful in modern T20 era. Jayawardane retired from the format with a World Cup win in the bag while becoming the batsman who has the most number of runs in T20 World Cup history. Jayawardane also has a century in T20 World Cup which bears witness to his amazing adaptability.
With Jayawardane nearing his swansong in Test cricket, his ODI retirement too not very far, world cricket will miss one of the great batsmen who played outstandingly in an era of transformation yet did not lose his classical touch.