He walked on to the field with the same enthusiasm he’s had for almost 20 years. His feet still thumped the ground with the same intensity when he ran. As Sri Lanka were warming up for the first T20 international against India, Sanath Jayasuriya proved to be as sprightly as any of his team mates, some of whom are almost half his age. At 40, an age when the fittest of cricketers have the ‘former’ prefix attached to their names, and are visible on match days for commentary assignments, the former Lankan skipper is still out to prove that the youngest format of the game is not reserved only for the young.
When Jayasuriya stepped out to open the batting on Thursday, the body was not quite in sync with the mind as short and wide balls flew past his bat rather than towards the boundary. He survived a chance and then smashed five boundaries off an Ashish Nehra over, celebrating the last two glances to the fine-leg fence with the delight of a debutant.
The end did come soon after, for 26 off 20 balls, when he glided debutant Ashoke Dinda straight to third-man, but he had shown flashes of what he is capable of and given his team the blazing start they needed. “Sanath is still a potent match-winner and we’re backing him to the hilt,” captain Kumar Sangakkara had said prior to the match. But, highlighting his legendary player’s lowering percentage of success, he had added: “Sanath will certainly be opening in T20s, but he’ll have to compete with Upul Tharanga during the one-dayers.”
Jayasuriya’s fortunes have taken a bit of a dip over the last few months and a number of experts in Sri Lanka have questioned his selection for a while, but he is so dangerous on his day that the selectors and the skipper are in a constant dilemma. “He is still one of our best limited-overs bowlers and is very quick on the field, that adds to his value,” Sangakkara said. On Wednesday, he picked up two for 19 in four overs to go with his quickfire 26.
“Sanath has faced so many challenges and pressures in his career and we know that he has the mental capacity to handle any situation.”