Sri Lanka’s fantastic four
2nd July 2011
The journey of Sri Lankan cricket is a special one indeed. Sri Lanka have been on the international cricketing scene for a period of exactly 30 years and have achieved some remarkable deeds throughout the 15 years they been serious competitors since they won the Willis World Cup in 1996.
For instance, Sri Lanka hold world record for both the highest and second highest partnerships in Test cricket. This is remarkable for a nation that has only been a prominent Test nation for 15 given that it took New Zealand more than 20 years to register their inaugural Test victory.
Throughout the 15 years Sri Lanka have been a world force, there have been four individuals that have stood out as truly world class-men who can say at the end of their careers that they can each be considered to be one of the finest cricketers to have ever set foot on-field. These men of distinction are, in order of international debut:
1. Sanath Jayasuriya
2. Muttiah Muralitharan
3. Mahela Jayawardene
4. Kumar Sangakkara
Let us reflect and have a look back at the careers of some of the fine gentlemen and the impact they have had on cricket on a world stage and indeed on Sri Lanka as a nation.
Sanath Teran Jayasuriya was born on the 30th of June 1969 in the small town of Matara, in Sri Lanka’s southwest. He made his international debut in 1989, but only truly began to make an impact during the 1996 ICC World Cup, when he was promoted up the order to open the batting with Romesh Kaluwitharana.
This was part of a strategy by Sri Lanka in which the batsmen would manipulate the fielding restrictions by attacking the bowling and attempting to score as many runs as possible in the first fifteen overs of the match. This was soon christened pinch-hitting, and it was a thrilling success for Sanath, as he revolutionised the face of international cricket and was crowned the Man of the Tournament.
From that point on Jayasuriya was the main man behind Sri Lanka’s batting order and continued to pulverise bowling attacks the world over. Although he was known mainly for his batting exploits, he was also a fine allrounder, being the only man the score 1200 runs, take 300 wickets, and snare 100 catches.
His top score in ODIs was a swashbuckling 189 vs India in Sharjah, 29th October 2000. This incredible knock came off just 161 deliveries and contained 21 fours and four sixes. His best bowling figures were 6 for 29 against England in Moratuwa, 20th March 1993.
Other career highlights include adding a then world record stand of 576 runs with Roshan Mahanama (225) as he scored 340 from 578 deliveries with 36 fours and two sixes, and an excellent allround performance against Australia at the SCG as he scored 122 and then snared 4/39 to captain Sri Lanka to victory.
Sanath Jayasuriya was the first man to play 400 ODIs and played his 445th and final ODI on the 1st of July 2011, after 22 years on the international scene.
It could be argued that even after the 19 years since he made his Test debut, Muttiah Muralitharan remains the face of Sri Lankan cricket. Murali was born in Kandy on the 17th of April, 1972 and was the son of a biscuit factory owner.
Murali was born with a deformed elbow, which meant he was never able to fully straighten his arm. This in many ways hampered his career, when during the MCG Test of 1996, Australian umpire Daryl Hair no-balled him for throwing.
Yet Muttiah rose to become the highest wicket taker in both ODI (519 wickets) and Test (800 wickets) cricket. His best Test match bowling analysis was 16/220 against England at the Oval on 27th August 1998. He bowled a stunning 113.5 overs and conceded a miserly 1.9 runs per over.
Despite his status as a minority Tamil, Murali remained an icon throughout Sri Lanka and indeed the world with his calm and friendly demeanour. His gentle personality and warm smile charmed many and right until his retirement he was an outstanding ambassador for his beloved nation. With the help of his manager, he created the Foundation of Goodness, a charity set up to assist impoverished and underprivileged Sri Lankans in the north and east of the island.
Mahela Jayawardene is widely regarded one of the finest batsmen to ever come out of the Indian subcontinent. A sublime timer of the ball, Jayawardene is also an outstanding fieldsman who captained Sri Lanka with aplomb.
Jayawardene tragically lost his brother to cancer early on in his career. Understandably, this had a traumatising effect on him, but after some persuasion from his family, he was able to solider on and continue his cricket career.
Jayawardene has scored nearly 10,000 Test runs and has been an outstanding slip fieldsman for Sri Lanka in Test matches, having pocketed 67 catches from the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan. This is a record for a non-wicketkeeping bowler/fielder combination.
Jayawardene’s career highlights include winning the ICC Spirit of Cricket award in 2007, the same year he captained Sri Lanka to the final of the tenth ICC World Cup in the West Indies. In 2011, he became the first batsman to score a century in a world cup final in a losing cause when he registered 100 against India in Mumbai.
Jayawardene featured in a 624 run partnership with Kumar Sangakkara (287) against South Africa in Colombo, 2006. The pair batted for 157 overs as, Jayawardene scored 374 runs. This set a new world record for the highest score by a right-handed batsman, overtaking legendary England batsman Len Hutton’s score of 364. This record had stood for 63 years until it was finally broken by Jayawardene. What is more, it is the only 600 run partnership in the history of first-class cricket.
Finally, we turn out attention to Kumar Sangakkara, “the C.B Fry of Sri Lanka.” Professional in all he does, Sangakkara was an extremely bright student at Trinity College, Kandy, one of Sri Lanka’s premier schooling institutions. It was at this time that he won the Ryde Gold Medal, the school’s most prestigious award for academic excellence.
Kumar has certainly continued on an academic path- he has earned a double degree in civil and criminal law. But in terms of excelling on the cricket field, Sangakkara appears to be a cricketing Hercules. He is Sri Lanka’s full-time ODI and Twenty20 wicketkeeper and still manages to average over 30 with the bat in both forms of limited overs.
His Test record is superb, as, like Jayawardene, he possesses a supreme batting average (56) and has scored nearly 10,000 runs. And just as Jayawardene, he has captained his nation with distinction. He has also scored runs all over the globe and the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh remain the only nations in which he is yet to register a Test century- his average does not dip below 40 against any opponent.
But their famous 624 run partnership is not the only time the classy pair have supported Sri Lanka. Against South Africa in Durban in 2000-01 Sangakkara (74) and Jayawardene (98) shared in a 168 run partnership. Sri Lanka then collapsed to be all out for 216. As such, their partnership represented a world record 77.78 percent of the team total.
With 25 Test centuries and 144 dismissals in his 47 Tests as a wicketkeeper, there is no doubting Kumar Sangakkara’s class- or indeed the class of any of these cricketers, and it can only be hoped that Sri Lanka produce more of these gold standard cricketers in future.