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Jayawardene Classic Is One For The ages

By Orin Davidson

Mahela Jayawardene is one long name that is difficult to pronounce.

But by now it should be the most talked about in the cricket world.

Mahela Jayawardene
(Photo by Shiek Mohamed)

The unknown righthander came out of the woodwork in blazing fashion last Saturday with a phenomenal innings while setting the all time best second wicket partnership and chasing down Brian Lara’s epic 400-run Test record in the process.

Jayawardene’s merciless onslaught on the South African bowling attack which climaxed at a massive 374, took him into the rare heights where only the super great knocks are placed.

Not Sachin Tendulkar, not Ricky Ponting, not Rahul Dravid or Inzaman Ul Haq - the other contemporary batting greats of the game have managed such a feat.

Jayawardene and Kumara Sangakara – who featured in the all time mammoth second wicket partnership of 624 runs, transformed the normally staid atmosphere in Sri Lankan Test grounds into a riot of noise and color for two days. The Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) was enveloped in showers of exploding firecrackers as the two batsmen turned the day into one for records.

Sri Lankans whose indifference for Test cricket these days has left the stadiums with graveyard like appearances instead of carnival like scenes, were forced into the SSC as word got around of the heroics of Jayawardene and his partner.

At one stage he seemed poised to write his name in the history books as he erased milestone after milestone, climbing from beyond the top 50, getting past the top scores of the greats like Donald Bradman Haniff Mohamed , Sir Leonard Hutton, Sir Gary Sobers, Matthew Hayden among others. There was a special celebration when Jayawardene topped Sanath Jayasuria to become the highest scoring Sr Lankan. His name was on the lips of all Sri Lankans including the many who never cast him in the same brilliant light of the country’s bigger names like Mutthia Muralitharan, Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas and Sangakarra. When he overtook his current teammate Jayasuriya, he seemed so much in control Brian Lara could’ve started writing his concession speech.

Jayawardene never seemed tired the entire third day Saturday – his footwork was sharp, his running between the wickets urgent and his strokes effortless, although logging more than 10 hours prior at the crease. “I was tired yesterday (Friday) but today (Saturday) I was much fresh. I don’t know why but I wasn’t feeling physically or mentally exhausted today. When I got back into the dressing room I let everything go and then I started to feel the soreness, muscle cramps and things like that,” Jayawardene explained on the eve of the third day.

It was a feeling indicative of a great achievement in the making. The night before Lara broke Sobers’ 365-run 36-year record, he said he was unable to sleep, but still had the energy to go all the way next day. Many West Indians and Lara supporters would’ve given up on the 400 record history when Jayawardene went to tea needing only 43 more runs to remove one of the cricket’s greatest legacies. In becoming the first man to break one individual record twice, Lara created a niche in Test batting that many felt would remain intact for a lifetime. It seemed ready to go up in smoke though, when Jayawardene started closing in after the tea break. But it required spoiler Andre Nel to dive deep into his bag of tricks to end it all. One year ago it was Nel who denied Lara his sixth double century at the time, handing the triple world record holder, a perfect out-swinger which landed on middle and off, and moved away just enough to graze the outer bail, with the lefthander poised for a super return to competition on 196, before his beloved Queens Park Oval fans. Again Nel re-enacted a feat synonymous with the beauties of sport, although it would’ve rubbed Sri Lankans the wrong way, by producing a miracle when least expected.

This time it was the in-swinger the South African conjured up in the midst of Jayawardene’s dominance, which pitched outside off stump and cut back sharply to wreck the batsman’s middle and off stumps. It was a beautiful delivery which, although might have ended Jayawardene’s dream, defined him in a special way reserved only for the players on top of their craft. In rating him Sri Lanka’s best batsman ever behind Jayasuriya long before his heroics at the SSC, Cricinfo website recognized Jayawardene’s class after he made his debut in 1997.

That feeling was epitomized by dynamic performances against England early in the summer.

Muralatharan’s wrecking of England in the third and final Test is credited for salvaging the series for Sri Lanka with the victory that forced a drawn series. But it was Jayawardene who fought off the English with a brilliant ton and a half century in the second Test to force a draw and set the stage for the third Test win.

The innings was of such quality, the English, if no one else, would’ve expected him to follow up with good scores against South Africa.

But to better all the great innings by English batsmen over the years and threaten Lara’s historic mark, must have left Andrew Flintoff and company in awe of the dapper right hander. Apart from the 43 fours and one six, the epic 374 contained along with the record second innings partnership, Jayawardene’s innings is greater appreciated, because it was part of a victorious display by Sri Lanka. In contrast Lara’s two world records yielded draws instead and he was roundly criticized for selfish play during the 400 which it was felt, robbed West Indies the time needed to push for a victory over England. To go along with their 1996 World Cup title triumph, Jayawardene’s 374 would rank as the country’s second greatest cricket accomplishment. Yet it is just reward for the efforts made to develop the sport there. Among the dozen grounds of first class standard in Colombo alone, there are training programs at almost all of the facilities. But none would be more proud than the Nondescripts Cricket School where Jayawardene leaned to bat the proper way.
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