By Hilal Suhaib | March 12, 2012
In his second stint as captain, Mahela Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to the finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia. Although Sri Lanka failed to win the series, Jayawardene has earned praise from prominent former cricketers for the manner in which he led the side.
“His vibrant leadership during the Commonwealth Bank series inspired his team and took them to the brink of a tournament victory,” former Australian captain Ian Chappell said recently.
“From the moment Jayawardene elevated himself to the top of the Sri Lankan order, his team became a threat. He also led the way with some brilliant fielding but, just as important as his individual contributions, it was his faith in his players and the respect he’s earned that elevated the level of Sri Lanka’s play.”
Chappell, now a popular television commentator, felt that if not for Jayawardene’s “strong leadership and shrewd captaincy” Sri Lanka would not have reached the finals of the tri-series in Australia.
“What makes Jayawardene’s outstanding leadership even more meritorious is that he has achieved a lot despite constant upheaval amongst Sri Lanka’s administrative ranks,” Chappell added.
Result-wise, Sri Lanka have shown similar promise under different leaders for some time now. Just prior to the tri-series in Australia, their showing in the 3-2 ODI series loss to South Africa, under the leadership of Tillakaratne Dilshan, was admirable given that they were expected to struggle in South African conditions. And under Kumar Sangakkara, they were invigorating but, like in Australia recently, they finished as bridesmaids many a time.
After losing to India in the final of the World Cup last year, Sri Lanka failed to win any of the five ODI series they took part in. Their last Test series win was against New Zealand nearly three years ago. What has been symptomatic of their losses has not been Sri Lanka’s inability to find a suitable replacement for Muttiah Muralitharan or the inability of their bowlers to take wickets, or an issue with leadership per se, but more a failure on the part of their senior top-order batmen including Jayawardene.
In a majority of their 19 ODI losses over the last 12 months, Sri Lanka’s senior statesmen Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Dilshan have failed with the bat and an inexperienced middle order has been unable to fight back. Their bowlers have often been left with too little to defend. In the Test arena too the collective failures of their batsmen has, more often than not, resulted in a loss.
Former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram recently rated the vastly experienced Jayawardene as “the best captain in the world”. An accolade the 34-year-old is well worthy of after displaying canny leadership skills on the field recently in Australia. However, Jayawardene and Dilshan’s return to form with the bat is perhaps a more crucial element behind Sri Lanka’s resurgence than the former’s return to captaincy alone.
Dilshan, who was named player of the series, finished the Commonwealth Bank Series with two centuries and an average of 51.30. Likewise, Jayawardene too ended the series with an average of 40.60 and three half-centuries. Along with contributions from Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal, the Australian tri-series saw Sri Lanka’s batsmen performing consistently, in unison, in one single series for the first time since the World Cup last year.
In the end, what will determine Jayawadene’s success in his second term is not how often Sri Lanka finish second best or how admirably they perform, but how often they are crowned champions at the end of a series.
© Island Cricket