Touch artist makes a firm statement

Personality

Touch artist makes a firm statement


In an increasingly power-orientated era, Mahela Jayawardene brings a certain old-world charm with him. Sri Lanka’s most successful and accomplished Test batsman can wow and delight audiences like few others in international cricket, and he does it with an envious mix of solid technique, oriental wristiness, wondrous timing and a strength of mind that was obvious even when he was in his teens.

Singled out for greater honours even when he was plying his wares for his school, Mahela all but gave up cricket when his reportedly equally talented younger brother succumbed to a brain illness. With time, the shattered older sibling gradually reconciled himself to the unforgiving twists of fate, steeling himself to continue pursuing his passion.

In his constant quest for excellence, Jayawardene has few peers when it comes to Sri Lankan cricket. Now 32, he has already clocked 12 years and 108 Test matches; in Ahmedabad the other day, he became the first from his country and ninth overall to touch 9,000 runs, a magnificent accomplishment for a genuine virtuoso from a country that is younger in Test cricket than Jayawardene’s genetic age.

Jayawardene’s journey has had numerous ups and downs, but while he accepted each success with grace, each failure drove him to work extra hard. It is no coincidence that the men that are the most successful are also the ones that work the hardest. Talent can only take you so far; what you make of the gift bestowed upon you is what separates the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys.

From being one of the ‘boys’, Jayawardene made the inevitable graduation to being appointed the leader some three and a half years back. The national captaincy, for which he had been earmarked a long, long time back, came his way when Marvan Atapattu was laid low by a back injury. Jayawardene took charge during the Lankans’ tour of England in mid 2006, and has stacked up a legacy that his successors, including close pal and current skipper Kumar Sangakkara, will be hard pressed to emulate.

A drawn Test series in England when Sri Lanka came back from the dead was followed by a 2-0 thumping of South Africa at home. The Jayawardene stock grew manifold, further helped by the fact that the skipper himself amassed 374 in the first Test at the SSC and put on a world record stand with Sangakkara.

Instilling belief

Jayawardene’s greatest contribution as captain wasn’t merely the impressive quantum of runs but getting his charges to believe that they weren’t inferior to their counterparts from other countries in any manner. He didn’t wield the whip like Arjuna Ranatunga, he didn’t pout and fret, he didn’t dress his team down in public. But in his own quiet, understated manner, he made sure he got his point across, and wasn’t afraid of taking on the establishment if he believed the cause was just.

His high point as skipper came in 2007 when he steered the Lankans to the World Cup final, but it was almost a given that even in a country generally laidback and not anywhere near half as demanding as India, he was gradually beginning to feel the burden of being the national skipper.

Earlier this year, he finally decided he had had enough of the hot seat, gracefully stepping down in favour of Sangakkara but always available for guidance, advice and a word of encouragement. His final outing as skipper ended in bloodshed in Lahore when the Sri Lankans came under a heinous terrorist attack; to hear Jayawardene speak of how their trysts with terror in their own country had stood them in good stead during those frightening few minutes couldn’t but leave the listener affected.

Jayawardene never coveted the captaincy, though it might have had something to do with the fact that it was going to come his way at some stage or the other. Now, in his second innings as a ‘mere’ player, he is a far more dangerous opponent, wiser and more mature, at the peak of his powers as a batsman and largely restricted to worrying about his own batting even if he is forever ready to help his mates out.

“Even before I was the captain, I was contributing with ideas. Even now, I am contributing, giving ideas to bowlers purely because of all the decisions I have made as captain,” Jayawardene pointed out. “I wanted to be a better batsman than what I was in the last ten years, and I think I am doing that in all forms of cricket.”

He sure is! Post abdication, he has conjured a century and two 90s, culminating in that memorable 275 in Ahmedabad last week, in his last five Test innings. Undivided attention towards his own batting, coupled with the fierce desire to power Sri Lankan cricket forwards, mark him out as a man to fear and respect. Especially when he has 27 Test tons as well!

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