Jayasuriya's class act

Sanath Jayasuriya acknowledges after his century against New Zealand. This knock once again revealed his match-winning qualities.-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

Jayasuriya's knock once again revealed his match-winning qualities. The key factor in strokemakers like the Lankan captain is that whenever they come good they place their side in a winning position.

If the pitches for the first few games in the World Cup are any indication, the teams from the sub-continent, especially India and Sri Lanka, might do well. When the conditions are oriented towards the batsmen, these sides do come into their own.

I had a feeling that the surfaces might have some juice for the pacemen, but there was no grass and the bounce has been even and true, and this should only make life easy for the batsmen.

The Sri Lanka - New Zealand encounter at Bloemfontein is a good example of this point. The Kiwi pacemen had performed exceedingly well at home against the Indians, and in South Africa, they could have expected some bounce and seam movement. In fact, it had rained in the Free State city, and the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming might have been influenced by this, when he inserted the Lankans.

The move boomeranged with the pitch playing well. A Kiwi defeat was always on the cards with Sanath Jayasuriya taking on the mantle of the destroyer.

The point is that the sub-continental sides, particularly India and Sri Lanka, rely on their batting to fetch them big wins and when the conditions suit strokeplay, they can be a real threat.

Jayasuriya's knock once again revealed his match-winning qualities. The key factor in strokemakers like the Lankan captain is that whenever they come good they place their side in a winning position.

For someone who began his career as a left-arm spinner, he really has been an extraordinary story. Jayasuriya is such a natural striker of the ball, that he makes maximum use of the width provided by the bowlers.

Having been an attacking opener myself, I have been an admirer of Jayasuriya's fluency, and he is someone who is guided by his instincts. From a psychological point of view, it is very important for Sri Lanka that he fires. He did just that in the first game.

One more factor that could be to the advantage of the sub-continental outfits is that, as the tournament wears on, the pitches could help the spinners more. Indeed, the tournament holds interesting possibilities for the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Saqlain Mushtaq and Harbhajan Singh.

The signs are good for the West Indians as well. They piped South Africa in a cracking World Cup opener, and so much has already been written and said about Brian Lara's sensational comeback.

I would like to focus here on Carl Hooper's captaincy and his calming influence on the team. He came back from retirement, took over the captaincy during a difficult period in West Indian cricket history, and has managed to turn things around.

A classy middle-order batsman himself, Hooper has guided the young West Indian players, there is a fair bit of talent in them, and his role in some of them coming good in a big manner has been crucial.

The West Indians got the team right by playing seven specialist batsmen against South Africa with wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs, who is a hard striker of the ball, to follow. This ensured that the Caribbeans were playing to their strength.

I quite liked the manner in which Hooper handled the bowling, especially when there was so much pressure on the fielding side with Lance Klusener cutting loose in the climactic stages. Hooper is the kind who retains his cool even in tense situations, and his body language doesn't give away much. He is certainly not the kind to panic, and does send the right message to his men.

The tournament opener was also an encounter where Hooper contributed both with the bat and the ball, and his ability as an off-spinner has always been vital to the West Indies side. He bowls a consistent line, and has a pretty deceptive faster one, which Hooper put to good use against South Africa. His record in the one-dayers is a pretty impressive one.

Actually, the West Indian attack is much better than it appears. The pace combination of Mervyn Dillon, Pedro Collins and Vasbert Drakes, all three are different bowlers, is a pretty useful one, and the Caribbeans have the option of having the speedy Jermaine Lawson in its ranks as well.

India's own pace ace, Javagal Srinath, at the point of writing this column, was on the threshold of a major landmark in the ODIs. The Karnataka paceman has 299 ODI scalps (He later reached the milestone against the Netherlands). This shows his hard work and commitment (He later reached the milestone against Holland).

Srinath was my roommate when India visited Australia in 1991-92, and that was his first tour. Even then, it was apparent that this bowler would go far.

He has easily been among the most dedicated cricketers I have come across, and has always put team above individual glory. He has bowled a lot on Indian pitches, that can break a paceman's heart, but not once has he complained. In fact, he has accepted that as a challenge and some of his finest moments have come in India. This says a lot about the man's character.

He kept himself out of the ODIs on occasions, then announced his retirement from Test cricket before coming back, but all these decisions have to be understood from the perspective of a pace bowler. That is how much his body can take at that particular point of time.

With age, he only appears to have got better. Srinath's consistency in his line of attack and length was exemplary in New Zealand, and though the conditions might have favoured the pacemen, he did make the most of it by pitching it in the right area unerringly and making the most of assistance from the surface.

I can tell you from experience that he can be very sharp when he wants to and even now, he can surprise the batsmen with the odd quick delivery. Srinath is easily the finest Indian paceman I have seen after Kapil Dev, although he hasn't really received the credit that he deserves.

He is now figuring in his fourth World Cup, which is a tremendous achievement in itself. The whole of India should be proud of him.