Perhaps the most pleasing on the eye for long time MCC members out of the recent crop of Sri Lankan players, Mahela Jayawardene represents a fast dying, much loved period in cricketing history. Amongst Jayasuriya’s onslaughts, Dilshan’s outrageous scoops, Mathews’ physics defying fielding and Mendis’ mystery balls (lets not even touch upon Murali and Malinga), we find a man for whom the cover drive and clean slip catches are king and queen. Bringing up the name Denagamage Proboth Mahela de Silva Jayawardene raises sceptical looks in some circles (and worried glances towards alcoholic drinks stocks in others). Debate will continue about the integrity of Jayawardene’s stats. Some claim he is a flat track bully, who feeds off of bowlers on the dead or dying wickets of the sub-continent, whilst others will suggest that he will be looked upon as a cricketing great after he retires.
Whatever the point of view, one undisputable fact is that the man from Colombo possesses one of the most thoughtful, precise and increasingly endangered techniques in the game. Inch perfect footwork, a solid forward defensive, patience, timing and above all elegance oozing from every stroke of the blade are what Jayawardene should hopefully be remembered for when he eventually calls time on his career. Jayawardene is perhaps one of the few remaining old guard, whose technique could adorn the pages of any coaching manual. Sadly in a world where powerplays and advertising deals are fast overtaking the straight drive in importance, Jayawardene’s kind will find it increasingly difficult to find a home. In this day and age, 8000 people will not turn up to watch a batting line up full of players such as Jayawardene, Misbah, Nash and Katich. Cricket has been introduced to the fast food generation, and it must learn to adapt or wallow in mediocrity.
The consequences of this? More emphasis on being able to score runs in unusual places, and to hit it out of the park at least once an over. A bigger demand for players with the power of Pollard or Yuvraj, with the daring-do of Dilshan, or with the all-round capabilities of Afridi. The marginalisation of technically correct accumulators such as Jayawardene and Kallis will soon follow. What use is it having a batsman who times the ball through the covers for 4 every other over if you can have two guys who can mow it over cow corner twice an over?
Jayawardene is not exactly a stranger to big hitting, though. In my opinion he played the perfect one day innings against New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final in 2007. Coming in at 67-2 in the 14th over, Jayawardene took ten balls to get off the mark with a single. What followed was a steady accumulation of singles and well judged twos. His first boundary came up in the 31st over, with his second following in the 38th. A third boundary and some more excellent running brought Jayawardene 50 in the 41st over off of 76 balls. What followed was a masterclass in innings acceleration, as first Patel, then Oram and Franklin were dispatched to all parts of the ground in a near faultless display of counter-attacking. His next 50 came off just 28 balls, including six fours and two sixes. The finale came with Jayawardene taking 11 runs from the four balls he faced of Bond’s 50th over to finish on 115 not out from 109 balls and ultimately carry Sri Lanka into the final.
Add to this he is a very fine, safe slip catcher, and his partnerships with Vaas and Muralitharan have played a huge part in Sri Lanka’s rise over the last 6 years. He also captained the side admirably to a 1-1 draw in England in 2006 (his first series as captain), follwed by a 5-0 whitewash of the same opponents in the One Day series. Traditional, almost ‘cliched’ batting has taken some major blows in recent times with the retirements of Fleming, Vaughan, Lara and Inzamam. Let’s hope that when Jayawardene bows out of test cricket, we are saying goodbye only to an excellent technician, and not to the last of his kind.
2015 Cricket World Cup Champs!
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