A complete batsman

AP

International cricket will miss the classy Mahela Jayawardena and the entertainment he provided with his skilful batting. For Sri Lankan cricket, the void left by his retirement will be hard to fill, writes Vijay Lokapally.

“I have a request,” he said, sounding almost apologetic, at the end of a long interview he gave Sportstar in 2013. “All these years, people have mis-spelt my name. It is Jayawardena, ending with an ‘a’. Can you please remember to put my correct spelling,” the Sri Lankan great said.

The tone was typical of Jayawardena, humility underlining his character. There was no trace of arrogance, which sticks out sorely in the behaviour of most modern-day cricketers — even those with mediocre performances. Jayawardena was different.

He belonged to an elite group that brought dignity to the game. He attached a remarkable degree of quality to his cricket. Whether he was leading the side; following the instructions of his captain; scoring runs or standing in the slips, thinking and plotting the dismissals of opposing batsmen, Jayawardena was ever ready to provide the edge to Sri Lanka’s campaign. Going by his awesome contribution to the game, Jayawardena was an institution by himself.

From the time he was convinced as a 15-year-old that he had a career in cricket, Jayawardena rose to dominate and decorate the game. His achievements were stupendous and ensured that Sri Lanka emerged a force.

Jayawardena served his team with utmost grace. It reflected in his batting because he took great pride in being a Sri Lankan, pride in being a frontline international batsman who put a price on his wicket and played to the best of his abilities. It was his ambition to make a living as a cricketer and Jayawardena pursued his goal and rose to become one of the all-time greats.

It was a joy to watch Jayawardena play. Many of the top bowlers had confessed that he made them look ordinary while on song. His technical excellence made his batting spectacular.

Jayawardena’s approach to batting was simple: make the bowlers earn his wicket. That he belonged to the old school was evident from his batting in Tests, but the Sri Lankan also worked tirelessly on some breathtaking innovations in the shorter formats. The range of shots he could play at will was amazing.

Jayawardena’s unwavering concentration and his ability to play long innings was an inspiration to a generation of Sri Lankan youngsters. His presence meant Sri Lanka could fight to the finish, for he never gave up easily.

The best aspect of Jayawardena’s cricket was highlighted by the current Sri Lanka skipper, Angelo Mathews, during an interaction before the second Test against Pakistan at the Sinhalese Sports Club. He said: “He’s not into personal milestones. If you look at Test matches, this is going to be his 149th Test. He could have played one more Test and retired, if he went for personal milestones. He’s been an unbelievable team man, and he’ll do whatever the team wants him to do and bat wherever the team needs him.”

It was a compliment that best described Jayawardena’s attitude and commitment.

Jayawardena made his debut against India in 1997, in the historic Test at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. His contribution was a strokeful 66, after Sanath Jayasuriya had plundered 340 in Sri Lanka’s gigantic 952 for six declared. Jayawardena watched stalwarts such as Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva and gained from the wealth of their experience in the years to follow. And one day, he was ready to take over the mantle from them.

Jayawardena will always be hailed as a complete batsman. Very few batsmen could pace the innings in the manner of this genial Sri Lankan, and fewer still possessed the variety of shots that made Jayawardena one of the most feared batsmen. Not many bowlers could claim to have found a chink in his armour.

Jayawardena was one who was feared by his opponents and revered by his mates. Sri Lanka grew into a team of achievers as he strove to instil a sense of self-belief in his team-mates.

The modern technology available for studying and analysing an individual could make little difference to his cricket. Jayawardena batted as was his wont and the strong point was he could pick gaps on the field at will. It was this quality that gave him a unique identity, apart from his amazing consistency. True, he went through a lean phase in 2011, but it was just an aberration. Jayawardena hit form again and began doing what he loved most: making runs.

International cricket will miss the classy Jayawardena and the entertainment he provided with his skilful batting. For Sri Lankan cricket, the void left by his retirement will be hard to fill.