Island Cricket

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lanka’s mauler - Self effacing to a fault | The Island

From where does Sanath Jayasuriya derive his inspiration is a question worth pondering about. He has gone on for almost 20 years now without sacrificing the killer instinct that has made him a thorn in the flesh of all world class bowlers. Jayasuriya, cutting and pulling the best of bowlers around has become such a common sight for many years, that he has become the prime target of opposing captains. The former Sri Lankan captain will turn 39 in June and while he looks good enough to go on, this most certainly will be his last tour to Australia, although he hasn’t publicly said so.

Australia is such a special place for Jayasuriya, in the sense it was there that his journey to stardom started. It was at the MCG that Jayasuriya made his ODI debut on Boxing Day in 1989. He managed just three runs, batting at number five and wasn’t called upon to bowl his left arm spinners. The beginning was hardly an indication of what was to follow.

Since his début 19 years ago, Australia in particular has attracted Jayasuriya’s wrath. His position in the side was made permanent after his whirlwind hundred against them in 1995. Ever since, whether it be Tests, ODIs or Twenty20s, the first name that was penned down in the team sheet was that of Jayasuriya’s.

The purist would obviously question Jayasuriya’s technique, but nevertheless, with a rather ‘cocky’ technique, he has gone on to defy all odds. The fact that he realized too early not to change his technique worked wonders for him and the team. In a recent interview with ‘The Island’, former Sri Lanka great Aravinda de Silva stressed a few important points.

"Our under-19 players are too confused about techniques. All of them want to be technically perfect. Batting is all about making runs and what’s important is to stifle the risk element to make runs. You don’t have to be technically perfect to be a successful batsman. The best example is Sanath Jayasuriya. He’s not technically perfect, but nevertheless he’s been effective for us for years and years," de Silva said.

Power and timing were his forte and depending on these two assets, he ran amok in international cricket for two decades and went on to become the highest run getter for Sri Lanka in both forms of the game.

While he was quick enough to identify his limitations, he also worked on a few technical aspects, whereby he reduced the risk element in making runs. He was instrumental in hiring the services of batting ‘Guru’ Barry Richards in 2001-2002, the period when Sri Lanka went on to win ten successive Test matches under Jayasuriya’s captaincy.

The tributes have been lavish for Jayasuriya. Australian spin legend Shane Warne named him as one of the best 20 players he has played against or with. But the biggest tribute probably came from Sachin Tendulkar, a contemporary of Jayasuriya, who captained India, when Jayasuriya was breaking all sorts of records. Tendulkar’s comments were, "I haven’t seen Bradman, but I have seen Jayasuriya." This was in the year 1997, when Jayasuriya hit a career best 340 and 199 in successive innings.

As he stated in his column that appeared in ‘The Island’ during Sri Lanka’s tour of Australia, one thing that hurt him most while playing for Sri Lanka was not winning a Test in Australia. "I grew up looking up to the West Indies. Richards, Haynes, Marshall and Garner were all great players, but during my time as a cricketer, it was to Australia we all looked up to raise the bar. People ask me whether I regret not breaking Brian Lara’s World Record of 375 in Tests or Saeed Anwar’s 194 in ODIs. Those didn’t bother me much. I am a firm believer that whatever the records that you get, they come in the process of helping your team achieve something. Not winning a Test in Australia, however, will always be a big disappointment for me."

But he can derive satisfaction from the fact that he was the first and only Sri Lankan captain to beat Australia in a Test (in 1999 in Kandy). To date, that remains Sri Lanka’s only Test win against the World Champions and the fact that it came in Jayasuriya’s very first Test as captain is a great achievement indeed.

There’s no doubt that he has terrorized world cricket. Manoj Prabakar was slowly fitting into the boots of Kapil Dev as India’s next great all-rounder, but it only took a brutal onslaught from Jayasuriya in the 1996 World Cup and Prabakar never played for India again!

With his place in the Test side being questioned, he unleashed the same attack on Shaun Pollock at P. Sara Stadium in 2006. He went onto make 70 odd and hoisted the South African legend to the adjoining Air Force flats in a tense game. The ball was never returned. However, his fiery blitz against Pollock raised questions of the Protea’s place in the Test side and a year later, he was dropped from the South African Test side.

Pollock had been at the receiving end some six years ago, too. He was the captain when Jayasuriya hit 98 runs in the first session of a Test match in Galle. This was not against Bangladesh, but against a quality bowling attack that had the likes of Ntini, Klusener and Kallis. His batting was legendary like knights of yore and many crickolics turn off their television when Jayasuriya departs.

He has inspired many youngsters. The greatest aspect of his career may be to remain so down to earth despite all these achievements. That is his self-effacing character.

Pollock is not the only victim. Jayasuriya was playing his last Test match in Kandy last December, and he put away England’s James Anderson for six successive fours in one over. It was pure class and what’s more, it was a World Record too. Anderson didn’t take any further part in that series and it remains a big question whether he will do so in the future. But he shouldn’t be too upset as he’s not the only man to go through a similar fate. Well, if that can happen to Pollock, who is Anderson?

Internal politics at the Cricket Board in 2005 had him being left out of Sri Lanka’s ODI tour to Australia, but strong resistance from some Interim Committee members forced the chairman at that time to give way and Jayasuriya was recalled. He landed in Sydney less than 24 hours before an ODI against Australia. He was picked, and hammered the feared Australian attack to all corners of the game, making 114 in 96 balls and Sri Lanka cruised to a comfortable victory.

Jayasuriya is soft spoken and prefers to keep a low profile. But that doesn’t mean that he is not outspoken and has taken on the administrators upfront on occasions. He was controversially asked to step down from Test cricket in 2006, but a few months later, the new chairman of selectors talked him out of retirement. On his return, he let his bat do the talking.

Sri Lanka 'whitewashed' England without Muttiah Muralitharan with Jayasuriya remaining a celebrity icon in that victorious team.

He hit two hundreds. The first came at the London Oval, also the location for his memorable Test double hundred in 1998. But the one in Headingly stunned the whole of England as the 5-0 whitewash was completed in grand style. Chasing an improbable 321, Sri Lanka got there, believe it or not, with more than 12 overs to spare, thanks to Jayasuriya, who hit 152 in 99 balls. There were 20 boundaries and four sixes scored and England didn’t even take the third Power Play.

He would be indeed a happy man that he played such a vital role in Sri Lanka’s 5-0 win, but the ultimate goal will be Australia. He will want to make sure that Sri Lanka go there some day and win a Test – even sans his great self.

By Rex Clemantine for The Island LK (Subscription).


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