Saturday, December 08, 2007

The apologetic assassin - Richard Hobson

Sanath Jayasuriya's Buddhism urges compassion to all creatures. His batting is based on precisely the opposite impulse. Ahead of England's Test series in Sri Lanka, the Wisden Cricketer explores the contradictions of a fascinating man

The first minutes in the company of Sanath Jayasuriya raise a thought that must have crossed many a mind these past two decades. How does a softly spoken, moon-faced man given to meditation twice a day morph into one of the most violent hitters that cricket has known, as soon as he picks up a bat? Well, the answer is both clear and comforting. In a world where size increasingly seems to matter, the little Sri Lankan reminds us that skill and timing also pack a punch.
At 38, and approaching the end of his career, Jayasuriya is ready for one final dart in December at the England bowling. His decision to retire from Test cricket last year was the premature response to pressure from selectors, but the next time he makes that call it will be of his own volition - and it will be final. "I have happy memories of playing against England," he says. "I guess this will be the final time that we meet, so I want to create a few more."
His stats are impressive enough but Jayasuriya is more significant even than these figures show. The year 1996 is to Sri Lanka what 1966 is to England, and while Arjuna Ranatunga may have lifted the World Cup that night in Lahore, it was Jayasuriya, officially named Most Valuable Player for the competition, who became their Geoff Hurst. According to legend, he revolutionised the game during those weeks, developing the role of pinch-hitter by cutting, pulling and driving from the very start, when opposition captains were stymied by fielding restrictions.
The truth is a little less dramatic. "It makes me laugh when I hear it described as a revolution," he says, emphasising the point with a chuckle. "Other opening batsmen had played the same way, in fact Kalu [Romesh Kaluwitharana] and I played the same way in Australia that winter. I can only think that people were surprised because they had not done their homework - they did not see Sri Lanka as a threat. Maybe they thought we would not have the confidence to bat like it in the big matches. But it was working, so why change?"
Eleven years on, Jayasuriya can rattle off the scores game by game, from the game against India, when they chased 271, to the final, when Aravinda de Silva's brilliant hundred took them past Australia with only three wickets down. His own competition reached its apogee in the quarter-final against England, when he struck 82 from 44 balls, including the then fastest World Cup fifty, from 30 balls. "England were not as good as they had been four years earlier," he says. "If they underestimated us, they were not alone."
Jayasuriya's humble background made his rise all the more remarkable. The distance between home in the fishing village of Matara and the capital of Colombo was further in cricket terms than merely 100 miles of road leading north along the coast. Had Jayasuriya not decided to move in his late teens, before the Youth World Cup in Australia in 1988, he might never have broken into the national side. Even now he believes that those in what he calls the "out-stations" of the country have early ground to recover.
Despite being part of a Buddhist family, he went to the Catholic St Servatius School. It was only five minutes from his house. Equipment was a luxury beyond all the boys; Jayasuriya himself did not own a bat until he was 18. "I used to pick one from the school bag," he says. "There would be four or five in there and, if you opened like I did most of the time, you could have first pick. When I got out, I would often hand it to the new guy when we crossed."

When Merv Hughes was bowling, I struggled to watch the ball. I kept looking at his face, because it was so different

He made his Sri Lanka one-day debut, against Australia, in front of more than 45,000 people at the MCG on Boxing Day 1989. "When Merv Hughes was bowling, I struggled to watch the ball," he says. "I kept looking at his face, because it was so different. I found it really hard to come from school and club cricket, but that was the gap we had to bridge. It made us tough and I think my upbringing away from Colombo helped to make me tough as well."
On his first tour the backroom staff consisted merely of a manager and an assistant manager, who also took charge of the coaching. Jayasuriya cites the arrival of Dav Whatmore as coach and Alex Kontouri as a physio and fitness trainer as key to Sri Lanka's emergence. Whatmore was influential in the inspired decision to promote Jayasuriya to open in both forms. "For those five years up to then I never felt that I had an exact place that was mine in Test or one-day cricket," Jayasuriya says.
Since 1996, Sri Lanka have carried an allure for opposition cricket boards. Crowds the world over suddenly wanted to see Jayasuriya and his colleagues. Selectors, meanwhile, have set about finding a Jayasuriya of their own. His legacy can be seen in almost every successful opening partnership in one-day cricket these past ten years. It is pertinent to ask whether, without Jayasuriya, we would have seen the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Virender Sehwag play with such abandon.
But the biggest impact was on Sri Lanka itself. "When a new player comes into the side, I know it will not be long before he asks me about 1996," Jayasuriya says. "Younger guys would not have started playing cricket, or tried to make a living from it, but for what we did in that World Cup. They tell me that they wanted to play cricket because of that. They want to know how it happened, how we did it. You realise how important it was for our country and our cricket."
Jayasuriya blossomed amid greater expectations. Within months he cracked the fastest fifty in one-day cricket, from 17 balls, against Pakistan. The following year he was part of the Sri Lanka team that scored a Test-record 952 for 6, against India at Colombo. He entered the final day 326 not out, 50 short of beating Brian Lara's then record individual score of 375. "I was out for 340 and people asked me whether I was disappointed," he says. It is, in fact, his favourite Test innings, just ahead of his 213 against England at The Oval in 1998.
That game is best remembered for Muttiah Muralitharan's 16 wickets, and Jayasuriya has sympathy for those England batsmen and the hundreds of others to be tormented by the extraordinary spin bowler. He remembers the first time he encountered Murali himself, in the nets at the Nondescripts CC ground in Colombo around 1991. "He had taken a lot of wickets at St Anthony's College in Kandy. Somebody had sent him to our training and he spun the ball like nothing I had ever seen. I asked him how he did it and he just pulled a face as if to say 'Did what?'"
I ask whether back then, before Murali was a superstar who polarised opinion, Jayasuriya had ever privately questioned the action. "Never," he replies straight away. "From the way he walked you could see he was a different shape. His arm was not flat by his side because his elbow was bent; it was always obvious to me." There is clear admiration for his colleague. "Everywhere we go there is pressure on Murali from other teams," he says. "We see him as our unique bowler, our special one. We decided very early on to always give him full support."
Jayasuriya never took that to the extent of leading off a team, as Ranatunga had seen fit previously. "Arjuna was not bad for the game," Jayasuriya says. "He was bad for the opposition because he said what he thought and built us into a better side. For his mental strength, he was one of our great cricketers." As characters the captains were chalk and cheese, but Sri Lanka did not lose their toughness when Jayasuriya took over in 1999. Indeed, the 2000-01 series against England, fanned by dreadful umpiring, was contested as bitterly as anything on Ranatunga's watch.

He was in charge during a transitional phase when the likes of Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva were replaced as leading lights by the emerging Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. He admitted being "a bit frightened" at taking office, but stood down four years later with a record of 18 wins from 38 Tests. "After a while I found captaincy quite easy," he says. "As more and more new guys came in, they looked up to me in the way that I looked up to Arjuna. Time changes so many things."
He continued in the ranks for three more years before the surprising decision to concentrate solely on the shorter form. "The selectors wanted me to do that," he says. "I was not ready, but I thought that if they were in that frame of mind, there was no point in hanging around to be dropped. Then a new guy came in, Ashantha de Mel, who said I should still be playing. I had not wanted to retire, so it was an easy decision."
The comeback was at Trent Bridge last year. Sri Lanka won to level the series, and Jayasuriya proceeded to hit two hundreds in the subsequent one-dayers. The assault at Headingley, when he and Upul Tharanga put on 286 in 31.5 overs, has become a reference point for England's one-day woes. Kabir Ali and Tim Bresnan, who shared the new ball, have not played since. "I am sorry about that," Jayasuriya says, sounding quite sincere. "But I did want to prove a point."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tributes to Sanath Jayasuriya

Inspiring a generation of cricketers

Sri Lanka's captain and vice-captain, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, paid tribute to their team-mate and former leader, Sanath Jayasuriya, who bowed out of Test cricket at the age of 38 following his side's 88-run win over England in the first Test in Kandy.

"It is a tremendous loss when you lose someone who's played for 18 years," said Jayawardene after the match. "He's been a batsman, a senior player, and a bowler, and his loss is going to be huge, especially in the dressing room."

Sangakkara was even more flowing in his praise of a man he first saw as a spectator at the Asgiriya Stadium during the 1996 World Cup. "That World Cup win probably inspired not just me, but a whole generation of young cricketers to try and play for Sri Lanka," said Sangakkara. "He changed the face of world cricket, especially in the one-day arena. He's a wonderful cricketer, a wonderful man and he's had a wonderful career.

"I think for me personally he's been a pillar of support," added Sangakkara. "He was my first captain and when I was struggling to make the side there was always positive re-enforcement from him, and never a negative word. We have the best memories of him in the dressing room. We'll miss him, but life and cricket moves on, and we'll look ahead with a new side."

So long, Sanath - The great entertainer by Charlie Austin

So long, Sanath.....

He was a player who routinely frustrated with soft dismissals, but he made up for those failures with innings so brilliant, so daring, so ludicrous, that you were often left in open-mouthed shock. When he walked out to bat, even non-cricket fans couldn't resist looking at the TV

Sanath Jayasuriya's second retirement from Test cricket attracted much less fanfare than the first did, some 18 months ago. It was also far happier: on that occasion he started the match silently fuming with the selectors for pushing him out. It all ended with a dropped catch, a painfully dislocated thumb, and a heavy defeat to Pakistan. He was not ready to walk away back then and it was a bitterly sad and unjust end to a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket. This time, though, he knew the time was right and he finished with a characteristically macho cameo, a brilliant 78 that played a crucial part in Sri Lanka winning the first Test by 88 runs.

Indeed, his innings on Monday afternoon neatly encapsulated all that has made Jayasuriya so valuable a player for so long. He may have a modest average by the standards of top Asian batsmen (finishing with 6973 runs at 40.07 in 110 matches), but right through a career that stretches back nearly two decades, Jayasuriya's runs were often hugely influential. He was, in short, a match-winner, possessed of that rare and precious ability - like Kevin Pietersen for England - to singlehandedly turn the tide of a game, stealing momentum. He did that in this Test, wiping away a 93-run deficit that many at the time thought was a winning lead for England. The rest of the top order may have finished the job, but Jayasuriya was the one who gave them an early wind and swung the match back onto an even keel.

However, though he proved in this game that he still has the ability to win games at home, there's no denying that it was the right time for Jayasuriya to leave the Test arena. As an allrounder he still has plenty to offer in the one-day and Twenty20 game, but in Test cricket his performances have been on the wane for some time now. The gaps between his big scores have grown wider. Age, inevitably, was taking a toll. While Jayasuriya's fitness has remained good, the reflexes were starting to slow, exposing him at the start of the innings. Also, there are younger players waiting in the wings, such as Upul Tharanga and Mahela Udawatte, who now need to be playing if Sri Lanka is going to progress.

Jayasuriya was offered a farewell Test by the selectors - the alternative being the prospect of being unceremoniously dropped - and he gladly accepted it. Characteristically, he made his goodbyes in low-key style. Jayasuriya is a national hero, a legend for many, but he has never sought the bright lights; he is a simple man, a very committed Buddhist. His retirement was announced to Sky Sports after his 78 with a casual air. There was no media release and no press conference. I asked him why, that evening. "Why do I need a press conference?" he queried back. "Murali had just broken a world record and that is far more important than me deciding to retire. If the journalists want a quote, they will find me."

Jayasuriya, though, will not be forgotten so easily. The first, simple reason for this is that for the best part of two decades he has been in the team. Most people in the country have little recollection of the pre-Jayasuriya era. In addition, there is the small matter of his style. In an era of increasingly sterile and mechanical professionalism, Jayasuriya batted like a fearless schoolboy in a park. When he started out, Sri Lanka ate biryani on match days and didn't bother employing coaches. He leaves a dressing room of bland pasta dishes, isotonic drinks, ice baths, physios, trainers, psychologists and analysts. Throughout he played the same way: if he could, he'd whack it to the boundary.

All those fortunate to have watched Jayasuriya over the years have witnessed batting at its most brutal, compelling best. He was a player who routinely frustrated with soft dismissals, but he made up for those failures with innings so brilliant, so daring, so ludicrous, that you were often left in open-mouthed shock. When he walked out to bat, even non-cricket fans couldn't resist looking at the TV. There are few sights in cricket more spellbinding that Jayasuriya on song. Of all the wonderful players I have watched over the years, none has electrified a stadium like him. He was, quite simply, Sri Lanka's great entertainer.

That entertainment played a crucial role in cricket's growing popularity in Sri Lanka. A common Western misconception about Sri Lanka is that everyone is genetically cricket mad. On the contrary, the game was dominated for decades by Colombo's elite, and lacked island-wide appeal until the 1990s. Now, though, fuelled by the World Cup win in 1996, and international success, it is a binding force that cuts across class, creed and ethnicity. Jayasuriya, born and bred in the undeveloped deep south, played a central role in making that happen. Every nation likes homegrown heroes, and Jayasuriya's international success, especially his barnstorming 1996 World Cup, has been a source of huge patriotic pride.

As captain he took over from Arjuna Ranatunga in 1999 and also made his mark with a consensual and inclusive style. He created a family-like atmosphere in the dressing room , and until 2002 it suited the team well. However, as time progressed, the job became harder and increasingly politicised. As a batsman his approach was fearless, as leader he was far more cautious and self-doubting. With hindsight you can see that he slowly lost control of the team in the lead-up to the 2003 World Cup. To be a good Sri Lanka captain, you have to be willing to be sacked. Jayasuriya spent too much time on the fence and eventually it became clear that a change was required. He realised it, too, and resigned straight after the World Cup.

That is not what he will be remembered for. He'll be remembered for his crunching airborne square-cuts, leg-side swipes, and the sunniest of smiles. He enjoyed his cricket and he gave huge enjoyment to others. He was a simple and free-spirited batsman blessed with enormous natural talent. Fortunately, thankfully, Sri Lanka excused him his inconsistencies and allowed us all to marvel at his brilliance. He will be missed, sorely missed.

Sanath Jayasuriya Test timeline

Sanath Jayasuriya made his Test debut against New Zealand in 1991 as a 21-year old middle-order batsman. He retired from Test cricket having scored close to 7000 runs, including a triple-century, two double-centuries and 14 hundreds.

February 22, 1991 - Sanath Jayasuriya makes his Test debut in the second Test against New Zealand at Hamilton. Only required to bat once, he scores 35 at the No. 6 position.

August 22, 1991 - In his fifth Test innings, Jayasuriya scores his maiden Test fifty, a 66 off only 70 ballsagainst England at Lord's, but could not stop Sri Lanka from losing the match by 137 runs.

January 25-29, 1996 - Scores his maiden Test century, in his 17th Test, against Australia at Adelaide. His 112 in the second innings followed in a 48 in the first but Australia still went on to win by 148 runs.

August 2-6, 1997 - Jayasuriya plunders 340 in the first Test against India in Colombo, the highest individual score by a Sri Lankan. His 576-run second-wicket partnership with Roshan Mahanama was the first 500-plus partnership in Test cricket.

August 9-13, 1997 - Jayasuirya follows up the triple-century with a 199 off only 226 balls in the 2nd Test at Colombo as the series is drawn.

August 27-31, 1998 - Scores 213 off 278 balls in the first innings against England at Lord's to set up Sri Lanka's first Test victory in England.

July 1999 - After a poor performance in the 1999 World Cup, Jayasuriya was made captain of the side after the selectors sacked the influential figure of Arjuna Ranatunga

July 21-23, 2002 - Scores his 10th Test century in his 74th Test against Bangladesh at Colombo.

March 22, 2003 - Jayasuriya ,resigns as captain after leading Sri Lanka to a record ten consecutive Test victories as well as a series win over India and a clean sweep over West Indies.

June 20-24, 2003 - Scores his 5000th Test run in his 79th Test against West Indies at St Lucia.

October 20-24, 2004 - Hits 253 in the second innings of the first Test against Pakistan at Faisalabad and sets up a 201-run win.

September 20, 2005 - Becomes the first Sri Lankan to play 100 Tests when as Sri Lanka took on Bangladesh in Colombo.

November 11, 2005 - After a string of poor performances, Jayasuriya is dropped from the Sri Lankan Test squad for the first time since 1995.

December 22, 2005 - Barely six weeks later, a series of protests and criticism, including involvement from the Sri Lankan president, sees the return of Jayasuriya to the Test squad

April 4, 2006 - Having announced his retirement from Test cricket, Jayasuriya faces a painful exit as he injures his right hand in his last Test at that time

June 1, 2006 - Asantha de Mel, the new chairman of selectors, forces Jayasuriya to reconsider his retirement and the batsman returns to the team against England in Nottingham

December 3, 2007 - At 38, however, Jayasuriya finally quits Test cricket and scores a rapid 78 - including six fours in one over - in his final innings against England at Kandy

Journeyman and genius - Sanath Jayasuriya

When Sanath Jayasuriya announced his retirement from Test cricket in the course of the first Test against England, the way he signed off was nicely representative of his extraordinary career. He failed in the first innings with the bat, then hit a quick 78 in the second innings. As a bonus in the second innings, Jayasuriya took a wicket with his slow left-arm spin.

A fifty and a wicket: useful but not remarkable figures…unless you know that 24 of those 78 runs had been scored in a single over off that blameless swing bowler, James Anderson. Jayasuriya's career statistics—his aggregates, his averages, his centuries, the number of wickets he took—give the same impression: they suggest a more than useful player, not a remarkable one. They lie.

In a career that spanned eighteen years, Jayasuriya played, in the idiom of Hindi films, an extraordinary double role: journeyman and genius. He was a useful bits-and-pieces player, fielding alertly, chipping in with the odd wicket (he took 98 wickets in 109 Test matches) scoring the necessary fifty (he had 31 half-centuries to his name); he was also, in his fearsome prime, the most destructive opening batsman in the world.

Sri Lankan cricket over the turn of the century resembles nothing as much as the great Bombay multi-starrers of the Eighties. It's a romance with three outsiders as leading men: Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya. None of them belonged to the tiny elite that dominated cricket in their country. Murali, the Tamil from Kandy, Ranatunga, the man who became captain despite not having attended St Thomas and Royal, the two public school nurseries of Sri Lankan cricket and finally, Jayasuriya, the maverick from Matara who re-invented himself as a player in mid-career and in the process changed the nature of batsmanship.

It might seem odd to bracket Jayasuriya with Muralitharan, a man who has broken nearly every bowling record in the book, and who has a real claim to being regarded as the greatest bowler in the history of the game. Jaysuriya's batting average in Test matches is in the region of 40 and in the limited overs game it hovers in the low thirties, decent figures but scarcely a claim to cricketing immortality.

And yet Jayasuriya was the most significant batsman of the fin de siecle, historically more important than Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara or Ricky Ponting. Glenn McGrath, no friend of Sri Lankan cricket had this to say of him: "…it is always a massive compliment to someone to say they changed the game, and his storming innings in the 1996 World Cup changed everyone's thinking about how to start innings."

Jayasuriya's significance is not statistical, though heaven knows that at the high points of his career he climbed peaks never attempted by more consistent players. He is a landmark in the history of the game because he was a successful heretic, the Martin Luther of modern cricket. He made the rules of orthodox batsmanship (getting to the pitch, getting in line, playing along the ground and that holiest of holies, playing with a straight bat) seem overstated and dogmatic.

Jayasuriya needed to play away from his body because he routinely hit balls wide of him on the up; he played with his bat at an angle of forty-five degrees because he was not trying to show the whole face to the ball, he intended to hit it with an angled blade and he used eye, timing and powerful forearms to get elevation and power. Jayasuriya's batting stance has been hugely influential. The classical stance had the feet six inches apart: Jayasuriya stance has his feet more like two feet apart. He didn't so much go forward or back as shift weight, rocking on to the back foot for the cut and the pull or crooking his front leg to drive, flick or pull on the up. He played like a batter in baseball: if the ball was in the hitting zone, there or thereabouts, it had to go.

What's more, he did this in Test cricket as an opening batsman, with a triple century against India in Colombo in 1997 and that magnificent double century against England at The Oval in 1998 which, as much as Muralitharan's bowling, won them the Test match. It was one of the great attacking innings in the history of Test cricket, played as it was to force a result in limited time. It was Jayasuriya's success in proving that his unorthodox methods worked in both ODIs and the more demanding context of Test cricket that paved the way for players like Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist: that's the real significance of McGrath's tribute.

More than most batsmen, Jayasuriya's technique reflected the way the game had changed. He was one of the main conduits through which the lessons in attacking batsmanship taught by the one day game were channelled into Test cricket. His technique took full advantage of the physical immunity that modern helmets lent batsmen. He hooked firm-footed or off the front foot without going back and across because the old fear of mortal injury that had been hard-wired into the heads of an earlier generation of opening batsmen vanished from the minds of contemporary players. And the astonishing power of modern bats was tailor-made for Jayasuriya's game: those short arm pulls that would have once steepled into waiting hands, now cleared the ropes.

There were better batsman than Jayasuriya during his time in international cricket and there will be many better ones in the future, but for the cricket historian he will remain that rare player who embodied a turning point in the game. As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty first, the art of batting was transformed and for a brief but critical period—say from 1996 to the end of the century—Jayasuriya was at the cutting edge of change.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sanath Jayasuriya's Test Career in a nutshell | Images

Sanath Jayasuriya signals end of Sri Lankan era

The modest masterblaster calls time...

It was an exit that brought to mind Mike Atherton's sheepish departure at The Oval in 2001. No-one knew for sure that this was his final innings in Test cricket, but the way Sanath Jayasuriya shyly saluted his standing ovation was telling in the extreme.

As he reached the rope after a pugnacious 78, he was met with a pat on the shoulder and a semi-embrace by the incoming batsman, Kumar Sangakkara, before Sri Lanka's uber-fan, Percy Abeysekera, chaperoned him to the pavilion steps beneath a giant national flag. The tongues had been set a-wagging and moments after the close came the confirmation we'd been expecting.

"This is the right time to retire," Jayasuriya confirmed. He had bowed out on this ground once before, against Pakistan in April 2006, when a nasty broken finger quite literally forced his hand. Though he reneged on that decision - with some success - in England later that year, this time, at the age of 38, there will be no coming back "There are some young guys coming up, and I wanted to go while on top," he said. "Life without cricket will be tough, but I will still be playing one-day cricket and contributing to the team."

On a day dominated by Muttiah Muralitharan, Jayasuriya signed off with a performance as full of fireworks as the hills around the ground that saluted his team-mate's world record. He fell short of his farewell century, but then Jayasuriya - possibly uniquely among specialist batsmen - has never relied on hundreds to get his point across. With forearms like pistons, he has bullied England's bowlers almost since the dawn of modern batsmanship. Spanking cameos have been his calling card, and rarely have they gone unnoticed.

The statistics tell you that Jayasuriya has been a fading force in Test match cricket - this was only his second half-century in 16 Tests stretching back to November 2004. The mind's eye tells you he was as dangerous in his final dig as he had been in his pomp, more than a decade ago, at the 1996 World Cup. James Anderson certainly won't forget the fury of his blade in a hurry - his fourth over was thrashed for six consecutive fours, only the third occasion that has been achieved in the history of Test cricket.

England, as is so often the case, have been the victims of his most devastating assaults. His ballistic 82 from 44 balls in the quarter-final against England transformed the parameters of one-day cricket - and set his side on course for their greatest triumph. His double-century at The Oval two years later was the performance that turned the Test on its head and paved the way for Murali's subsequent 16-wicket masterclass. And at Colombo three years ago, Jayasuriya flogged an exhausted attack for a quickfire 85, a cameo that was once again forgotten in the final reckoning as England tumbled to their third-heaviest defeat in history.

Today he finally called it quits. Michael Vandort will have a new partner at Kandy, most probably Upul Tharanga, who has himself been in the runs against England on this tour already. But somehow you know that the threat will not be the same when the teams line up at the SSC next week. As Murali marches on to ever greater heights, a fellow Sri Lankan legend leaves quietly by the side exit. It's arguably his quietest performance in a raucous career.

"He is the real Lankan hero, the day when Sana retires you will see the whole sri-lankans eyes full of tears, because he not only plays cricket on the pitch he also plays the heroism role in millions of peoples heart, he will be the lankan hero forever though he retires"




" I salute for his great contribution "

Sujan Rao.
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