Tireless warrior awaits his big prize

Tireless warrior awaits his big prize

This may be Jayawardenes best chance to win a World Cup that has eluded him for long

Tireless warrior awaits his big prize

Will Mahela Jayawardene be fourth time lucky? While we’ll have to wait till Sunday night to find out the answer, there’s little doubt that no one deserves to be part of a World Cup-winning squad more than the Sri Lankan skipper.

Sachin Tendulkar had to wait 22 years, while the likes of Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble had to be content with runner-up medals (2003 in South Africa). Someone like Brian Lara, among the greatest batsmen of his time, couldn’t go beyond the semifinals (1996 in India). The enormity of making it to the finals of four World Cups (two 50-over World Cups and two World T20s), thus, wasn’t lost on Jayawardene.

“Four finals is amazing,” gushed Jayawardene, barely managing to keep his emotions under check. “In one’s career, someone is lucky to play one final, but we have been involved in four big finals.”

Indeed, from the final of the World Cup in 2007 at Bridgetown to entering the summit clash of the ongoing World T20 in their backyard on Thursday, the Sri Lankans have made it to the finals of World events an incredible four times in six attempts.

Jayawardene was the captain of the losing side in 2007 while his close friend Kumar Sangakkara presided over heart-breaking losses in 2009 (World T20 final against Pakistan at Lord’s) and 2011 (World Cup against India at the Wankhede).

“We have to approach it (Sunday’s final) in a different way,” Jayawardene said.“One final was in Barbados, one final was in England and the last final was in Mumbai. This time we are playing at Premadasa (Stadium) and we will approach it differently.”

Sri Lanka’s emergence as a major cricketing nation began under Arjuna Ranatunga, who led the island nation to their only World Cup triumph in 1996. Sri Lanka, which until then was viewed as a team that could pull off an occasional upset, made the rest of the cricketing world sit up and take notice. Ranatunga, a fiercely proud player and a protective captain, set in motion a process which has been taken forward by Jayawardene and Sangakkara, not only through their personal contributions with the bat but also through their leadership qualities.

Sri Lanka appeared to be losing some of their ground under Tillakaratne Dilshan after Sangakkara stepped down as captain last year, but Jayawardene’s return to the helm has restored Lanka’s primacy in world cricket. Kumble once famously said that Tendulkar always had to prove people right everyone time he went out to bat. Jayawardene belongs to the same category.

Since his debut as a 20-year-old in 1997, Jayawardene has been marked for bigger things. It is no small accomplishment that not only has he lived up to his promise as a boy-wonder but, in some estimation, has exceeded those expectations. One of six batsmen in the world to have scored 10,000 runs in both Tests and one-dayers, Jayawardene has quite successfully managed to adapt himself to the shortest format of the game. Scores of 13, 4, 44, 65 n.o., 42 and 42 in this World T20 at a cumulative strike rate of just under 122 on slow tracks highlight his impact in all formats of the game.

Jayawardene’s influence, however, extends beyond his batting. In a country of 20 million where cricketing talent isn’t available in abundance, as a captain and a statesman, he has played a crucial role in ensuring that the supply chain to the national side doesn’t dry away, nor does the strong fan base whittle down. The support for the hosts on Thursday against Pakistan was akin to the one you would witness at any Indian venue; boisterous and highly partisan.

“We had great support. They just kept shouting and cheering us up. We are a proud cricketing nation and everyone will be behind us on Sunday,” remarked Jayawardene.
Every seat at the Premadasa will be occupied on Sunday and there will be a wave of Lankan flags. Whoever squares up against the hosts in the final will be up against a 12-man team!

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