Friday, September 26, 2008

Matara's Master Blaster Sanath Jayasuriya - Cricket's heart throb

Snestles so many hundred miles St. Servatius College away down South in the thriving town that is Matara once an ancient hamlet. A town that is proudly spoken of. Proudly spoken of for producing many sons of the soil in various spheres of life.

When Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya last week entered teat cricket's world record books for his feats with the willow it must therefore indeed have held an added significance for Matara's inhabitants Word has it that there had been a wild rush to Colombo from the cricketer's hometown when word spread that Jayasuriya had come close to breaking Brian Lara's world record.

As it is, Jayasuriya fell short by 35 runs of equalling Lara's record of 375. Ending up the world's fourth highest test scorer with 340. A marathon effort which despite falling short off that ultimate magical landmark, thrust the Lankan opening batsman to the forefront among the test greats. Dating back to a hand that strode the cricketing arena with colossal stature of many generations ago. To a period when the game flourished during such halycon days of Australia's cricketing immortal, Sir Donald Bradman and England's Walter Hammond. Now its history. Jayasuriya having eclipsed both Bradman's triple century records of 340 and 334 and Hammond's 303 while also relegating Pakistan's legendary Hanif Mohammed into fifth place in the world standings for highest test scores. In doing so in the just concluded first test of the two-off test series between Sri Lanka and India at the R. Premadasa Stadium. Jayasuriya as it is ushered in a new era for Sri Lanka cricket. Together with his second wicket partner, Roshan Mahanama, Jayasuriya also battered the existing test record for the highest partnership for any wicket and the first class record as well. Their partnership ran into 576 runs spanning just over two and a quarter days which itself was a record. The Jayasuriya - Mahanama (225) alliance was also the footing to Sri Lanka setting up the world's highest test total - 952 surpassing England's 903 for 6 against Australia in 1939. Interestingly, the partnership records set up saw a Bloomfield club bond. Mahanama being the Bloomfield captain.

While Jayasuriya's 340 - run record will be immortalised by cricket loving Sri Lanka, strikingly the 28 - year old left hander's success story has been like that of most sportsmen who have shot to fame. From 'rags to riches'. Like cricket's West Indian greats Sir Garfield Sobers, Vivian Richards and Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya rode to the heights of a public celebrity from humble beginnings. Having taken a shine to the game like any other lad in his little home backyard playing with his brother and neighbouring friends with whatever there was to improvise as a bat. His cricketing talents were quickly spotted out by the selectors in Colombo while a schoolboy at St. Servatius College having impressed for the First XI. That recognition soon saw the schoolboy from St. Servatius selected to represent a Sri Lanka 'B' team in Pakistan in early 1990's.

That was to be the turning point in Sanath's career with the hard hitting left hander trotting up two double centuries in two unofficial tests against Pakistan. That telling impression saw the left hander before long dawning on he big scene, drafted by the national selectors to the Sri Lanka squad that toured Pakistan in 1995. Jayasuriya sat it out in that epoch making first away 2-1 series win by Sri Lanka against Pakistan. But he cut a niche at one-day level. Regarded more as a one-day player, he forced himself into the test team permanently following a desciplined century against the high riding Australians during Sri Lanka's disastrous tour in late 1995. His big break came when as a stand by he replaced the injured Chandika Hathurusinghe.

What impressed the selectors was the temperament shown by the usually free scoring batsman while negotiating three figures with application.

It was in 1996 that Jayasuriya captured the imagination of the world. He could not have looked for a better stage than the World Cup to become a celebrity name. With his pinch hitting over the top he breathed a new dimension into one-day cricket at smashing the bowling all around in the first 15 overs in the restricted field. At the time along with his opening partner, Romesh Kaluvitharana the duo was to become the scourge of bowlers as Sri Lanka got off to imposing starts on theway to laying hands on the World Cup.

Significantly, it is in a brief span that Jayasuriya took the test cricket world by storm. Today, the boy from Matara is the heart-throb of millions. From Sri Lanka to all Asia as well. His latest hurculean effort follows the one-day record set up in 1996 for the fastest century in Singapore off 48 balls against Pakistan ina triangular. A feat subsequently surpassed by Pakistan's teenage prodigy Shahid Afridi. Perhaps, the reactions of the disbelief vented by his fans when Jayasuriya fell on 340,35 short of Lara's record speak of that adoration. To a point of some holding their heads at the stark reality that their hero had been dismissed. Changing altogether the scenario of glee and festivity the tempo of his strokeplay had set before that.

And as the tempo changed into a pall of gloom, the fans, they must be praying for another day for a Lankan to do it.

Will their idol fulfill that dream? Only the future will tell.

The Island
Sunday 10, August 1997

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