Marvel comics once had a rare issue where Superman and Batman appeared together. For many readers, it seemed odd to think of these icons occupying the same space. No room was big enough for the two of them.
Last week in Port Elizabeth, a similar pairing took place at the IPL. Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar, two cricketing superheroes, blasted a 100 run opening stand in just 52 balls. In the first IPL season, Tendulkar scratched around and then was injured. Jayasuriya revelled in the format, outshining Tendulkar. So, the dream pairing took a long time coming.
The wait was worth it. The Mumbai Indians’ openers were ruthless, but thoroughly entertaining. Tendulkar took the bowling by the scruff of the neck. He hit as many 4 sixes in the first five overs. There was an astonishing pulled six off Ishant Sharma, that showed that aging hero’s relexes were in tact.
With the floodgates open, Jayasuriya took centre stage after the fifth over. He had been starved of the strike and had added just 8 in a 45 run stand.
What followed was carnage, even by the hyperbolic stands of the IPL. Jayasuriya played his traditional drives over the legside boundary. Ganguly and Gayle were exposed as mediocrites. The pair never played a crude and contrived shot. No cross bat heaves were seen. Every step was as measured as in the old days of ODI cricket, when openers just blocked.
There was a poignant moment when Jayasuriya whispered advice to Tendulkar about Ajantha Mendis’ tricks. Mendis was not spared by either. Mendis looks a misfit in 20:20 cricket. Though he has vast variations, he lacks the crucial ingredient of spin bowling - flight. His inadequacies outside the subcontinent were made cruelly apparent. He was lifted for 2 sixes by each of the batsmen in his second over.
Also, Mendis’ fielding is clumsy. He looks lazy and uncoordinated, belying his 23 years.
On the surface, these two have many things in common. Their longevity in the game is striking. Both Tendulkar and Jayasuriya (who at 39+ is nearly 4 years older) made their international debut in 1989. 1989 is a year that will always be associated with the fall of Berlin Wall. The Cold War may have ended in that year, but the debuts of these batsmen may linger longer.
Both were the dominant batsmen in their sides for a generation. Tendulkar has a far superior test pedigree. Jayasuriya’s record overseas is several planes below Tendulkar’s. But in ODI cricket, there is little to choose. In fact, Jayasuriya has delivered in tournament finals, much more often than the Indian.
They are similarly built. Both are short, stocky and with powerful upper bodies. Jayasuriya seems fitter and stronger than Tendulkar who bears the burden of recurring knee injuries.
But that is where the similarities end. The two have vastly different origins. Sachin Tendulkar’s rise was facillitated by the patronage of powerful godfathers in Bombay. Ever since, he raised a world record 664 run stand with Vinod Kambli in school cricket, he was singled out for a great future. As 14 year-old, he was already thought of as a batting genius. A trip to the archives of the India Today and Indian Express in the late 1980s will reveal early eulogies of a pubescent maestro.
He did not disappoint. As a 15 year-old, he hit centuries on debut in each form of first-class cricket - Ranji trophy, Irani trophy, and Duleep trophy. In fact, was bitterly disappointed to be excluded from the 1989 tour to the West Indies at the age of 15. When he made his debut against Pakistan in late 89, a permanent place was certain. The rest is history.
While Tendulkar took the elevator to stardom, Jayasuriya took the stairs. Jayasuriya struggled in obscurity. His humble origins in Matara, a minor town in a minor Test nation, stunted his early growth. In the 1989 Sri Lanka B tour, he ravaged Pakistan with two successive double centuries. This achievement caught the attention of the selectors, who picked him for the tour of Australia that year. But, it took a long time for him to cement a place. He lacked the connections in Colombo.
Eventually, justice was done. By the late 90s, Jayasuriya had not only become the leading batsman, but also the captain. He struck fear in bowlers and was billed the ‘Matara Marauder’.Jayasuriya has the added asset of left arm spin. In fact, with nearly 100 Test and over 300 ODI wickets, Jayasuriya could have commanded a place as a spinner. He is a superior all round fielder. Most of all, he excelled as a leader. He led Sri Lanka to nine test wins in a row and won the ICC trophy. Tendulkar’s intensity was his failing. His spells as Indian captain were unhappy. Tendulkar may be a better batsman, but Jayasuriya is the better cricketer.