Ageless and merciless
Best ODI Batting Performance
125 off 114 balls v India
Asia Cup final, Karachi
Enough context existed, for Sanath Jayasuriya's 125 in the Asia Cup final, to fill a book. He had just turned 39, an age at which some men have been known to contemplate grandfather-hood. He was in Pakistan again, a land closely associated to his legend.
Here it was that he remodelled himself as the berserker opener unveiled at the 1996 World Cup. Against Pakistan it was that he scored the then-fastest ODI hundred, and the Iqbal Stadium's grass in Faisalabad he scorched during a monstrous double-hundred. He had also just found a way back into the ODI side - his natural home - through a handy, very Pakistani, mix of performance and politics. And of course, it was a final, against India at that, with whom there is always some spikiness.
Just in itself, and without all the extra meaning, the innings was immense. Only a handful of men could have even considered playing it, let alone been capable of doing so: Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, but who else? The National Stadium pitch wasn't up to much, but India's attack was handy enough.
Ishant Sharma had bowled the first, and only, meaningful spell of fast bowling through the tournament, at a stadium replete with such displays. He found bounce, a little cut and some loose batting, as Sri Lanka fell to 66 for 4 after 12 overs. Jayasuriya had been, in any case, responsible for even that start - he had made 42 at the time. The decision on how to proceed was evidently a simple one for him: he had taken 11 off Irfan Pathan in the 11th over, before Ishant struck twice in the 12th, and so decided merely to continue. It is said and written about easily, but not so its accomplishing.
Mostly, the whole piece was built on extraordinary coordination between hand and eye (his feet have mainly been used to prevent him from falling down), the instinct to do it but a given. The coordination was extraordinary because it is assumed the older a batsman gets, particularly one of Jayasuriya's kind, the less he has of it. All the shots had been seen before and believed, and yet here, as he pulled Ishant for six over deep square to bring up 50, you had to believe all over again. Was he really doing this now? Again? In this situation? At that age? He was.
There came a chance soon but RP Singh fluffed it. How, in the next over, he wished that at least the ground would swallow him up. Jayasuriya lofted him for six either side of the sight-screen, then carved twice through covers for four. The over, and Indian momentum, ended with a pulled six to make it 26. In Hollywood, Bruce Willis took on the world. In Karachi, Jayasuriya took on all of India.
One of few batsman to so consistently threaten an ODI double-hundred (Sehwag another), a personal score of 87 after only 16 overs strongly indicated another attempt at ODI batting's last frontier. It wasn't to be, as spin came on and Jayasuriya took a breather for what we all presumed to be a final late-overs assault. Thirty-eight came off the next 56 balls, no boundaries, and just as he attempted one, he was gone, responsible at that stage for over 60% of the total.
On any other day, for any other country, it wouldn't have been eclipsed for impact. But it was, testimony to Sri Lanka's wonderful ability to produce the strangest, most wonderfully different cricketers. Ajantha Mendis' six-for was merely the latest affirmation of that truth; those familiar with Jayasuriya didn't need telling at all.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo