Friday, September 26, 2008

Sanath Jayasuriya - A Tribute to the Legend of Modern Cricket

Sanath Jayasuriya will not be remembered as a legend of the game, but he perhaps should be. There have been some notable retirements in recent times (Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Brian Lara to name just three) but the little opener from Matara deserves to be held in similar company.

He is of course still going strong in One Day Internationals (he signed off from Tests last December with a typically attacking half century) , so it is a little early for a career review. However, Jayasuriya's longevity (he made his international debut in 1989) earns special recognition, as his career does more than span eras; he helped start a whole new one in cricket.

Few will forget his impact at the 1996 world cup. Previously a lower order batsman and useful left arm spinner, he forged a devastating opening partnership with Romesh Kaluwitharana that revolutionised the way ODI cricket is played. Standard wisdom dictated openers should accumulate runs and keep wickets in hand for a late assault, but Sri Lanka's pinch hitters blazed away from the start, taking full advantage of the fielding restrictions that were in place during the opening overs.

This tactic became the batting blueprint in ODIs, although no one could carry out the plan as Jayasuriya has done. He is the second highest ever ODI runscorer and in consideration of his 307 wickets, is perhaps the greatest ever all rounder in the 50 over format. Three of the fastest ever ODI tons have come from his bat and his 17 ball half century against Pakistan in 1996 is the fastest ever 50. No one has hit more ODI sixes.

Jayasuriya managed to transfer this form into the Test arena. He is Sri Lanka's second highest Test runscorer and third highest wicket taker. He holds the seventh highest ever Test score and was a successful captain for four years, maintaining the progress Sri Lanka made under Arjuna Ranatunga.

Dropped after failing to reach 50 in 20 innings last year, he won back his place after lighting up the Indian Premier League (what a shane he will miss out on the Twenty20 era - the perfect batsman for the format). Only Geoffrey Boycott was older in scoring an ODI ton - what a contrast in styles ! - and we should enjoy Sanath while we still have him. No one will play his flicks, cuts and pulls with the same panache: a unique player with a unique style.

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