Rediscovering himself

The most striking aspect of Sanath Jayasuriya's batting is the manner in which he creates room for shots square of the wicket. Provide him the slightest width and the ball will be dismissed past the ropes in a flash. His cuts and pulls — Jayasuriya's most fearsome strokes — are no more than short-arm jabs, with his powerful forearms and wrists coming into play. His hand-eye coordination is out of the ordinary; precisely why bowlers dread operating to the Lankan, writes S. DINAKAR.

THE pages of a book, that's what a sporting journey can appear to be, with a fresh chapter unfolding every season. Here light interplays with shadow, and stories of triumph exist with moments of agony as the protagonists find their way along a serpentine path.

There can be a twist in the tale too. Like an ageing hero, bucking the odds, turning the clock back, and reliving a heady past in an arena intertwined with his career.

Sanath Jayasuriya exploded with a hundred of raw passion and power at the Premadasa Stadium in Sri Lanka's last league game of the Asia Cup. And some old memories returned to haunt his rivals.

As the innings progressed, he was undone by cramps. Though limping in pain, he stayed long enough to make a statement. Old soldiers, they can never really be counted out.

It was also a night when the Lankans went down in a humdinger after Jayasuriya fell at the death to an unwise stroke, but the essence of his batting — courage under adversity, the spirit of adventure, and astonishing shot-making skills — was very much visible.

A worrying loss of form for the man from Matara — he is 35 now — meant that he was under increasing pressure to pull out something special. And Jayasuriya came back roaring.

His century at the expense of Bangladesh may have arrived against a weak attack, but the Lankan radiated with brilliance against a more testing Indian bowling. The soft-natured Sanath Jayasuriya, who relishes striking the ball hard, was back jousting with the bowlers. In his career, still unfinished, the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo would find a prominent mention. The left-hander has been at his dazzling best here, with those scorching cuts and awesome pulls.

It was here too that he constructed the highest Test score by a Sri Lankan; an epic 340 against India in the 1997-98 season. Not to forget those typical Jayasuriya sizzlers in the ODIs.

And just when the Indians were closing in for the kill the other day at the Premadasa Stadium, he went back in time, to his heyday. It was soon mayhem in the middle!

One of the most compelling batsmen in limited overs cricket, Jayasuriya's exploits in the '96 World Cup will forever be etched in the game's history.

Promoted up the order by the wily Arjuna Ranatunga, Jayasuriya, on the fast lane to fame, embarked on a high-octane ride, dumping the meanest of pacemen to the far corners of the ground.

The sub-continental pitches, lacking in seam movement and bounce, might have been his allies, but Jayasuriya made the most of the favourable batting conditions as he, along with Romesh Kaluwitharana, set a hectic tempo.

The method of pacing the innings in the ODIs was being turned on its head. The first 15 overs, when the field restrictions were in place, became as crucial as the last 15, for boosting the run-rate.

Though men such as Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Mark Greatbatch had batted in a similar vein in the past, it was in the '96 World Cup that the concept assumed a concrete shape and meaning.

The most striking aspect of Jayasuriya's batting is the manner in which he creates room for shots square of the wicket. Provide him the slightest width and the ball will be dismissed past the ropes in a flash.

His cuts and pulls — Jayasuriya's most fearsome strokes — are no more than short-arm jabs, with his powerful forearms and wrists coming into play. His hand-eye coordination is out of the ordinary; precisely why bowlers dread operating to the Lankan.

Jayasuriya's record for Sri Lanka in both forms of the game — 5816 runs in 90 Tests, ave. 41.84, 12 hundreds and 9566 runs from 320 ODIs, ave. 32.20, 18 centuries — indicates his value to the side.

His ODI average may be lesser than that of some of his contemporaries at the top of the order, but he is a highly influential batsman, who can, with his bold ways disrupt the rhythm of the bowlers and make things easier for the others.

The psychological impact of possessing an explosive opener cannot be understated. Reeling under Jayasuriya's booming blows, the bowlers often switch to a defensive mind-set.

The left-hander's aggression also ensures that the run-rate does not drop. In other words, the team always has a chance to dictate the course of a game.

Though injuries have prevented him from sending down his left-arm spinners regularly these days, Jayasuriya has a worthy record as a bowler (80 Test scalps and 255 ODI victims).

His strong shoulder is very much a factor as he fires down his left-arm spinners, not really providing the batsmen the room to get under the ball for the big hits. When Jayasuriya gets his rhythm right, he can achieve some bite off the surface too.

In fact, Jayasuriya began his career principally as a left-arm spinner before Ranatunga discovered the destructive batsman in him. The rest is history.

Jayasuriya is indeed a veteran, having entered international cricket in 1989-90. Apart from his extraordinary strength of mind, he remains extremely fit and athletic with cat-like movements on the field.

He had a successful four-year tenure as the Lankan captain that ended after his team's semi-final show in the 2003 World Cup in Southern Africa. He was very much a players' skipper, never missing an opportunity to consult his men, even during on-field decisions. Now, he appears to be enjoying his role as the senior citizen of the side teaming up well with skipper Marvan Atapattu.

There is much charm and romance about the game in Sri Lanka; a sun-kissed, wind-swept land. Jayasuriya's breezy ways is a reflection of that.

Beneath Jayasuriya's savagery at the crease, there lies great beauty as he continues tormenting the bowlers. The final chapter in his book is yet to be written.