Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan share a wonderful relationship, one born out of mutual admiration and respect, as well as both individuals’ desire to be the best in their chosen vocations.
The 41-year-old Jayasuriya recently completed 20 years in international cricket and is still available for limited-overs duties. Three days from now, Muralitharan, 38, will bid adieu to Test cricket but will keep his options open so far as the one-day format is concerned, with an eye on the World Cup in the sub-continent early next year.
Both men were crucial cogs in the wheel during Sri Lanka’s triumphant march to the 1996 World Cup, and once Jayasuriya took over the captaincy at the turn of the millennium, Muralitharan played a key role in the former’s successful stint at the helm.
Under Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka won 18 of their 38 Tests. Muralitharan played in 17 of those triumphs, and played a significant part, too. In all, 35 Tests under Jayasuriya brought Muralitharan an astonishing 230 wickets at 20.22, well below his career average of 22.71, with 20 five-wicket innings hauls and nine ten-wicket match collections.
“I have a good record as a Sri Lankan captain, and the main reason for that, I think, is that I was fortunate that Murali was at his peak during the four years I captained the side,” said the former skipper, now a television expert, among other things, as he bides his time hoping for a recall to the one-day set-up.
“Murali is a great character,” he went on, his eyes twinkling with admiration. “There’s never a dull moment when he’s around. He’ll keep all of us going, cracking jokes and giving insights on basically anything. He’s also very positive, hardly gets into a negative mentality and basically it’s fun when he’s around. He’s a very genuine guy as well, and the work he did after the tsunami has been very much appreciated by everyone.”
Jayasuriya was serving apprentice under Arjuna Ranatunga when Muralitharan was called in Australia for chucking in 1998. It is no secret that Ranatunga took on the establishment and steadfastly stood by his star bowler. Jayasuriya provided a ringside insight into those difficult days. “Murali owes a lot to Arjuna for the way he defended him, and he’s been grateful to Arjuna ever since,” Jayasuriya observed. “When he was called for throwing in 1998 in Australia, I was the vice-captain of the side. Some of the measures Arjuna took to defend him will be hard to match.”
Reflecting on his time alongside Muralitharan in the national team, the towering left-hander said, “Our careers ran parallel. The hard times and the good times we went through together… Going on to win the World Cup in 1996 was the pinnacle.
“I also remember the Oval Test with great fondness, when we beat England in England for the first time,” Jayasuriya reminisced. “We both played a crucial part in our team’s success. Murali got 16 wickets in that Test, and I got a double hundred. That victory is a very special moment along with winning the World Cup.”