Saturday, November 01, 2008
Sanath Jayasuriya was not the most elegant cricketer of all time. Yet he was was great athlete. He was not classical by any stretch of the imagination, and yet he had a lot of class. Whats more, he performed one of the most specialized roles in a cricket team - that of opening the batting. This exalted position, which in Rohan Kanhai's opinion was the domain of only the very brave and slightly mad batsmen, was occupied with great distinction by this marauding powerhouse from Matara. Jayasuriya began his career as a lower middle order spin bowling all rounder. He batted at number 6 or 7, and among his early scores were half centuries against Pakistan and South Africa - two of the best bowling attacks of the early 1990's. He was soon promoted to open the batting, and made a century at Adelaide in only his 3rd Test as opener. From then on, he was a fixture at the top of the Sri Lankan order and made nearly six thousand test runs as an opener at a healthy average of 41.48. He made test hundreds in Australia, England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. India and Pakistan were his favorite opponents and he made nearly two thousand of his 6973 Test runs against these two nations. Jayasuriya was one of the mainstays of the Sri Lankan Test line up for almost 15 years. As good as he was in Test cricket, it was One Day Cricket which gave him his stature and his fame. He was a pioneer of modern ODI batting at the top of the order. With his powerful bottom hand and brilliant eye he could loft any length anywhere at his best. He was impossible to bowl to as many bowlers around the world will testify and there was no area of the ground which he ignored. He played spin brilliantly inspite of his predominantly bottom handed method. His ability to square cut spinners and pacemen alike off a good length outside off-stump enabled him to hit good balls for four. Indeed, Jayasuriya changed the definition of a good delivery in One Day Cricket. Many other batsmen followed his lead. He had a distinctive superstitious method of preperation as he set himself to face up to the bowler. He tugged at all his equipment as if to remind to protect him as he went into battle with the bowler. Usually it was a worried bowler and even more worried fielding captain that he went into battle with. His little superstitious routine also drove many bowlers to distraction, but it was part of the Jayasuriya legend. It is difficult to pinpoint any one great innings in such a long and illustrious career. Jayasuriya's record speaks for itself. With 12,207 ODI runs and 6973 Test runs, made with the aid of 39 international hundreds, all of them at breakneck speed there is little doubt that he was one of the most important cricketers of the contemporary era. Add to this his underrated bowling which brought him 307 ODI wickets and 98 Test wickets, and it is easy to realise why Sri Lanka valued him so much, especially in the ODI game, where he gave Sri Lankan captains that extra option. His bowling was central to Sri Lanka's well oiled spin bowling strategy which caused them to go undefeated for a period of 5 years in ODI games where they had more than 250 to defend with Murali in their ranks. Jayasuriya and other bowlers would bowl around Murali. They could not match Murali's wicket taking genius, but were not easy to score off.
Sri Lanka will miss his all round prowess. That his retirement from Test cricket was eventually a happy, match winning occasion (match winning thanks largely to Jayasuriya's brilliant 78 in the Sri Lankan second innings at Kandy) is a fitting tribute to the man who by his very play confirmed Sri Lanka's place at the cricketing top table in the mid 1990's. As he walked off, escorted by Percy Abysekera, Sri Lanka and world cricket will wonder if they will ever see his type again. Actually, they may. He gave legitimacy to a belligerent method, which spawned a whole generation of batsmen all over the world who sought to play like him. But then again, may be not. The original as they say, is one of a kind.... We will miss you Sanny :(
- Sujan Rao (sanath189)
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