- The AlchemistTop contributor
- Posts : 651
Join date : 2014-02-25
As Mahela Jayawardene nears his retirement, his batting against South Africa was a reminder of cricket's glory days.
By RICHARD LORD
Wall Street Journal
July 29, 2014 10:44 a.m. ET
Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene plays a shot during the first day of the team's second test cricket match against South Africa in Colombo on Thursday. Reuters
Sri Lanka came crashing back to earth after its triumphant 1-0 Test series win in England with a 1-0 home defeat to South Africa, failing to force a win in the second Test. The visitors pulled off a feat of epic blocking to finish with 159-8 in 111 overs at Colombo's Sinhalese Sports Club, on a track that provided some turn but very little pace. But the game did at least provide some solace for the island's cricket fans, in the return to form of one of its greatest cricketers, Mahela Jayawardene.
The 37-year-old announced before the start of the Sri Lanka series that he would retire four Tests later, after the forthcoming two-Test series at home to Pakistan, which finishes on August 18. His form, after 17 stellar years as a Test cricketer, had been gradually sliding; an average that had hovered around 55 for much of his career had steadily fallen until it temporarily dipped below 50.
At the SSC, his mind perhaps freed by his impending retirement, he stroked a chanceless 165; his eventual run-out looked like the only way he was going to be dismissed. It was an innings that precisely recalled the glory days, reminding everyone that since the retirement of India's V.V.S. Laxman, he has been the most pleasing batsman to watch in international cricket, a marvel of timing, movement, grace and deftness who will leave a massive hole among the game's traditionalists.
It was entirely unsurprising that Jayawardene's innings, against a South Africa team good enough to win the series and return to the top spot in the world rankings despite possessing an attack apparently entirely unsuited to Sri Lankan conditions, came at the SSC, where he will also finish his Test career in the second Test against Pakistan. With 2,863 runs at an average of 77.37 from his 26 matches at the ground, including 11 centuries, Jayawardene and the SSC are comfortably the most productive player-ground pairing in Test history. It is also his home ground in domestic cricket; he has more than 5,000 first-class runs there.
Jayawardene and the Galle International Stadium, where he has 2,297 runs, take second place on that list, and his Test average in Sri Lanka generally is over 60; an average in the 30s in several overseas countries is the only blot on his Test record.
As much as his average, though, what has distinguished Jayawardene is longevity allied to consistency. If he plays in both games against Pakistan, his 17 years at the top will have included 149 Tests; he will also have played in 624 international matches across the three formats, including a faintly preposterous 420 One-Day Internationals, a figure that will grow as he plays on in the format until the World Cup in February and March. In both Tests and ODIs, he has more than 11,500 runs.
But beyond his statistical feats, Jayawardene will live long in the mind for the way he scored those runs: effortlessly elegant, with economy of movement, and perfect balance and timing, a lone redoubt of the MCC coaching-manual style in a world of front foot-clearing, bottom-handed, leg-side-dominant power hitters, his left elbow ever high, his wrists ever supple, his footwork ever twinkly.
His most memorable shots have been his flick through midwicket, his cover drive and in particular his late dab, played later than anyone else in world cricket. But there is no shot Jayawardene can't execute with eerie perfection. His timing, which has always seemed to make the ball skitter away unexpectedly quickly over the outfield for boundaries, is complemented by a peerless ability to manipulate the ball into gaps, precisely controlling the angle of the bat face to consistently miss the fielders. He has scored nearly 25,000 international runs across the three formats without ever seeming to hit the ball hard.
A classy, orthodox batsman who persuades the ball rather than hitting it shouldn't have succeeded in limited-overs cricket, but Jayawardene's razor-sharp cricketing brain and eye for improvisation allowed him to adapt his style of play to short-form requirements of limited-overs cricket with a range of new shots, including one of the most effective reverse sweeps in the game. He even reinvented himself late in his career as an ODIs opener.
Jayawardene is both blessed and cursed to have formed one of the all-time great batting partnerships, with Kumar Sangakkara : blessed for the obvious reason of 6,302 Test runs as a partnership, the third highest, with only another 181 required in their final two Tests together to surpass Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes in second, in about 30 fewer innings and at a partnership average, 56, nine runs higher; but also cursed because Jayawardene is in the statistical shadow of a man with such an eye-popping record.
With 11,665 runs at 58.32 from his 126 games, Sangakkara must now be considered one of the finest Test batsmen in history. For much of their respective careers, though, which have largely coincided, although Jayawardene made his international debut nearly three years earlier, he was considered the senior partner in one of cricket's defining batting partnerships. Their crowning glory came in 2006 at—where else?—the SSC, when they added 624 runs against South Africa, Dale Steyn and all, with Jayawardene's innings of 374 the fourth highest in Test history, and the highest by a right-hander.
His fielding has been as nimble as his batting. Few have ever been as accurate aiming at the stumps to effect runs-outs from the infield, and particularly as he got older he became one of the all-time great slip fielders; his 200 Test catches put him joint-second on the all-time list, only 10 behind leader Rahul Dravid.
And then there was his captaincy. The same creativity and astuteness that animated his batting also informed his decisions on the field, and his tactical excellence was matched by his demeanor: always in charge, never flustered, an egoless leader focused entirely on team success. One of the best tacticians and leaders of men the modern game has had, he took on the national captaincy twice, despite the pressures of dealing with a reliably turbulent board, his second stint ending as recently as 2012 when he handed over to current Test captain Angelo Mathews.
His on-field influence has hardly diminished since then, though. He is always the first teammate any captain consults, culminating in the latter stages of the team's World Twenty20 triumph in Bangladesh in March and April, when out-of-form captain Dinesh Chandimal dropped himself, Lasith Malinga took over and then just stood back and let the maestro get on with leading the team.
That tournament marked the end of Jayawardene's international T20 career, and it is hard to imagine another batsman as elegant, restrained and classy ever flourishing in the format again. But then it is hard to imagine another batsman as elegant, restrained and classy as Jayawardene period.
- sereneTop contributor
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Join date : 2014-02-26
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