The unchanged aura of Sanath Jayasuriya
Thursday 29th January 2009
In a dream that often recurs I find I am visiting familiar places, some I may have lived in, others merely travelled through, and people I knew still reside where they did, hang out under the same light pole, are doing the same things they used to . The only person that's changed is me and I get the feeling I am a traveller looking at an unchanged past. I found similar thoughts coming back, though I was wide awake this time, while watching Sanath Jayasuriya bat on Wednesday.
He is still crashing the ball past a bewildered fielder at point, surprising third man who might harbour thoughts of reaching the ball; still playing the pick up shot and depositing the ball into the stands at square leg; still charging back for the second like there is a brownie waiting for him. There is still a great simplicity of thought and action and often those are the humble building blocks of greatness. He is now the oldest man to score a one-day hundred and I suspect that, like Sergei Bubka, he will keep breaking his own record.
I had the opportunity of watching him closely when he played for the Mumbai Indians last year and was struck by the passion he still exudes. It is no coincidence that the two longest serving international cricketers love the game deeply and with no reservation. And so, thirteen years after he set the cricket world alight at the World Cup, that itself seven years after his debut, he continues to be Sri Lanka's talisman cricketer; his is still the wicket valued more than any other. Jayasuriya makes age look like an irrelevant statistic. There is still joy and anger and disappointment and a burning desire to win. Cricket is not yet a chore, arriving at the ground is not yet a job. When that happens he will age rapidly, young men will knock him over without realizing the enormity of what they have done.
If there is a pleasant feeling of déjà-vu watching Jayasuriya bat there is a rather more disagreeable one with the insistence of umpires to go to the replay for close catches. We saw that with Kulasekara's excellent effort to catch Gambhir off his own bowling. For all that you know the catch might have been clean but the moment it was referred to the third umpire, there was only one result possible. In spite of all the advances that television has made, it cannot rule on close catches, they will always look like bump balls. This was comprehensively proved many years ago and indeed, cricket went through a phase when the on-field umpire had to rule on whether or not a catch was clean. Yet, years later we continue to try and use technology that cannot help. Cricketers have known for many years that if they wait they might just tempt the umpire into asking for a reply and the moment that happens they are safe.
Cricket needs to find a solution to this and I'm afraid the only workable one is to ask the umpire to follow his instinct and get the players to agree to it. You can at best have a quick chat with the third umpire in case it was a clear bump ball but if the picture is not conclusive the on-field umpire must go with his instinct. In Australia, having discovered that a lot of the not out verdicts were probably out, third umpires tend to give a batsman out on the replay. I am afraid that is no solution either because the moment the third umpire is called in, he has to go by the evidence that is in front of him. I won't be surprised if Gambhir was actually out but the moment the rectangle was drawn by the umpire he would have known he was safe.
A little earlier a decision that could easily have been checked by a replay produced a mistake. It takes no time at all to verify if the ball pitched in line before passing an lbw verdict. It is one of the easiest replay decisions and far more conclusive than a lot of other pictures. Thushara's ball to Tendulkar pitched sufficiently outside the leg stump. All you needed was a quick word on the walkie-talkie and the right decision would have been arrived at. It would have had none of the dangers of predicting where the ball would have gone which is an area I am extremely concerned about in use of replays.
We need to take the help of replays when they are simple and conclusive not when they involve judgement. But this strange use of technology was only a minor blot on a day when Jayasuriya turned the clock back again.