Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jayasuriya - Still going strong at 40

Sanath Jayasuriya turns 40 on Tuesday and it will be no exaggeration to say that he is one of the marvels of the contemporary game. How many players at his age are playing in Twenty20 internationals a format, of, by and for the young?

He is in his 20th year of international cricket and is still the evergreen Jayasuriya who enjoys hitting the ball around and conveying this enjoyment to spectators and a worldwide TV audience.

Surely this is the main reason that still keeps him going long after his contemporaries have ridden off into the sunset

Jayasuriya on the other hand shows no signs of calling it a day. Why, only earlier this month he played a notable role in Sri Lanka making it to the title clash of the Twenty20 World Cup and will no doubt figure prominently in next month's ODI home series against Pakistan.

Sri Lanka just cannot take the field without him in the abbreviated forms of the game.

A decade ago Jayasuriya was the most feared batsman in the one-day game intimidating bowlers even as he walked jauntily to the crease. Not much has changed since then and the Peter Pan of cricket just carries on.

The tally of runs and centuries against his name just keeps bulging and his average and strike rate keeps getting better.

Jayasuriya made his ODI debut in December 1989, just a few days after Sachin Tendulkar played in his first such game. Today he is well past the 400 mark - in fact he was the first to play 400 ODIs and he has since been joined by Tendulkar.

He has retired from Test cricket but there is no indication that he will be quitting the limited overs scene. Why should there be any such talk when he is batting as fluently as ever.

The secret behind Jayasuriya's successful career is that he is still young at heart. That's why even as Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar all a few years younger have opted out of Twenty20 internationals, Jayasuriya is still very much around to regale audiences.

It is a tribute to Jayasuriya's skill, enthusiasm and fitness levels that he has lasted so long and like good wine, seems to be getting better with age. Why, his birthday century last year came up off only 55 balls the sixth fastest in ODIs. Certainly the end of his career is nowhere in sight as yet.

He did in fact announce his retirement a couple of years ago but almost immediately retracted his decision.

Which was just as well for Jayasuriya has still much to contribute to the cause of Sri Lankan cricket and has still much by way of providing entertainment to spectators and the TV audiences all over the cricketing world.

'The Matara Mauler' has lit up one-day cricket at the highest level ever since his power-hitting at the top of the order enabled Sri Lanka to win the 1996 World Cup.

Innumerable have been Jayasuriya's notable feats in the shorter version of the game - still the fastest 50 (off 17 balls), a century off 48 balls (the fifth fastest), the highest partnership (with Upul Tharanga) of 286 for the first wicket, the only player to complete the double of 10,000 runs and 300 wickets, the second highest individual score along with Vivian Richards (189), second behind Tendulkar in the list of run getters (over 13,000) and century makers (27), a still impressive career strike rate of 91.

Remarkably he has also been an outstanding player at the Test level - the second highest run getter for Sri Lanka with just under 7000 runs at a pretty impressive average of 40 coupled with a bag of almost 100 wickets.

In the new millennium as players like Adam Gilchrist, Shahid Afridi, Andrew Symonds and Virender Sehwag have upped the career strike rate to anything between 92 and 111, Jayasuriya achieving the status of elder statesman has stayed in the background.

But he remains dizzily dangerous and no bowler or captain can take his challenge lightly as his recent exploits in the Twenty20 World Cup underlined.

One wouldn't be surprised if he was still around till the 2011 World Cup.

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