January 2, 2009

Destined to rewrite all records

Mahela Jayawardene has yet to become the best that he can be, which is exciting to contemplate

Mahela combines perfectly touch and power, which is why he is successful in all formats of the game, against both pace and spin © Getty Images

To reach the milestone of a hundred Test matches is a special moment in any cricketer's career, and in the case of Mahela Jayawardene, our captain, that moment has arrived with him aged just 31. He will be playing his 100th match in Chittagong, on the back of a fascinating first Test - a game in which he, typically, provided the main foundation with a brilliant 166. The team is truly excited about sharing the milestone with this inspirational man who has led us so honestly, unselfishly and intelligently in the last three years.

His 100th Test comes in the wake of a trying few months for him personally. The recent advent of the IPL and the ensuing drama of the Sri Lankan tour to England have seen a brutal and completely undeserved personal attack against him by some sections of the local media. The pressure that comes with leading a side in a cricket-mad country has been augmented by petty jibes and vituperative rhetoric, making recent months a trial by fire for him and testing his patience and character to the utmost. As he has proved time and again on the cricket pitch, though, patience and character he has in abundance. He has come out of controversy with his head held high, his mind clear, and seemingly hungrier than ever to do what he does best: leading his country, winning games and scoring runs.

Of all the batting heroes Sri Lanka has produced - the Sathasivams, the Aravindas and Jayasuriyas - Mahela seems to be the one destined to rewrite all the records. He is already the leading run- and century-scorer in Test cricket for our country, and he is well on his way to reaching a similar milestone in ODIs as well. I see him passing 10,000 runs and 35 hundreds in Tests with ease, and only the current trend of more Twenty20s and fewer ODIs can stand in the way of him reaching similar heights in the 50-overs game.

Mahela was from a young age marked for greatness. Since he was 15, he was spoken of as the next batting prodigy for Sri Lanka. His run-scoring ability and style, cricket awareness and maturity were spoken of in awe and admiration, to such an extent that he seemed larger than life - a Gulliver in our Lilliputian world of Under-17 cricket. So great was the hype that I felt let down the first time I met him. Out walked this average-sized kid with a quirky smile and ready friendship and I remember thinking, "This can't be him. He's just like us."

That was until he had a bat in his hand. The sense of the ordinary was replaced by a steely determination and a wonderfully special batting talent. Even today, all he has done is refine the strokes that he already possessed at 15. Watching him bat it was easy to see the reason for the expectation building around him. It was going to be a question of when he would play for Sri Lanka, never if.

His reading of the game is instinctive. It helps him pace his innings well. The periods of lull and acceleration of his innings are well planned. This is why I like batting with him. It is easy to get into a rhythm with him Kumar Sangakkara on Mahela Jayawardene

Having known him from a young age, it was easy for me to see what made him different: passion and character. Everything he does is with passion. Playing cricket, winning, training, improving; his commitment to family and his life away from the game - he gives himself fully to all that he does.

It is his strength of character that has enabled him to overcome various obstacles: The tragic death of his brother; being thrust into responsibility as vice-captain of the team in a difficult period of transition; losing the position, then regaining it to go on and become a very successful captain.

For Mahela, to do something is to do it well. No half-measures. This is what makes him successful in cricket and also very annoying in our pre-match warm-up games. To win in a game of soccer, touch rugby or torpedo is to him a matter of pride. No quarter given, none asked for.

This passion is what makes him a tough opponent on the cricket field. As a batsman he is blessed with every stroke imaginable. The defense, the drive, the signature flick off the leg and hip, the deft cut and pull. Mahela combines perfectly touch and power, which is why he is successful in all formats of the game, against both pace and spin.

His reading of the game is instinctive. It helps him pace his innings well. The periods of lull and acceleration of his innings are well planned. This is why I like batting with him. It is easy to get into a rhythm with him.

He also has the important characteristic of being able to bat long innings, as he has proved time and again. This ability to be patient and to attack has made him successful all over the world. His two hundreds at Lord's and his efforts in New Zealand and Australia are testament to this ability. His innings against South Africa in Colombo in chasing down a fourth-innings target of 350, and again in the World Cup semi-finals against New Zealand show that he does not shirk responsibility but thrives under pressure. As a batsman he is a true match-winner.

His contribution as a fielder and part-time bowler is usually, and probably rightly, overshadowed by his batting. Standing at slip, he is equal to Mark Waugh in catching ability. The Mahela-Murali combination has resulted in many a batsman's dejected walk back to the pavilion. As a bowler his contribution has diminished, yet there was a time, like in the 1999 World Cup, where he did step up to bowl effectively when needed.

Mahela fully blossomed as a player upon assuming the captaincy of the side. For a man who was once criticised as being unable to bear the dual responsibility of being vice-captain and leading batsman, he answered his critics in the one effective manner: by walking the walk.

The 2006 campaign in England was the start of a highly successful tenure. He is a natural leader and has managed to foster a new culture of respectful equality, where respect is earned through performance and character, and each player is equally important. There is equal opportunity for each member of the unit to express opinions, and a new respect for individuality. It is a culture in which "different" cricketers, like Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis, thrive.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene share the Test record for the highest partnership for any wicket © Getty Images

A major achievement in his captaincy was, of course, reaching the final of the 2007 World Cup. A team of young and old, raw and experienced players was gelled into a cohesive unit. Each player's role was identified and valued. It was a remarkable journey, till the heartbreak of the final. From then on, success has been frequent.

His batting, too, has reached new heights since then. The added responsibility seems to have hardened his determination to succeed. His consistency as captain and leading batsman has put to rest the earlier criticisms of his abilty to cope with responsibility.

Mahela's cricketing journey, at least the best years, has just begun. He has in place a wonderful support structure in the form of his wife, Christina, and his parents.

As a modern cricketer, he is well aware of the need to be an ambassador for social causes, as is borne out by his dedication to establishing the Hope Cancer Hospital for children, a project of great scope and benefit to our community.

I have called Mahela friend, team-mate and captain, and shared in his cricketing journey for nine years. He has yet to become the best that he can be, which is exciting to contemplate. He has more runs to score to fully belong with the greats of the game, but again, it is only a matter of time before he does so.

His journey so far has not always been easy. The future will bring more challenges and obstacles, and as in the past, I can only see them making him stronger. One can only wait in anticipation to see what he achieves next, secure in the knowledge that it will be memorable.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arti on January 8, 2009, 16:54 GMT

    Its nice to see someone describe a team-mate,companion and a friend having observed him from close quarters,thus,giving us an insight . Although only seen him from quite a distance,he comes across as a down to earth and a humble person. I dont want to speak of his records as they speak for themselves . I would like to applaud him for his charity work as few manage to do it.I hope he continues the good work both on and off the field. Best Wishes for a great life ahead..

  • dipesh on January 8, 2009, 16:39 GMT

    great article sanga..as always.. truly enjoyed it.nice to see you talk about your captain and great friend.he is a great batsman and may you both carry the sri lankan flag higher.he will definitely score 10000 runs and you will also get there no problems at all....success to both of u in the future

  • buddhika on January 6, 2009, 8:12 GMT

    A great article, by one of the greatest wicket keeper batsman ever to be produced, on another great player..

  • Chatty on January 3, 2009, 14:27 GMT

    Mahela certainly has had a modest record overseas. But only by his standards. 39 away is an avergage many batsmen would like to have. Moreover, he is only 31 and this is the time a batsman really peaks. So, we should wait to see how he performs overseas the next couple of years. If you look at the last 4 yeas, his overseas average is 43+. Now that is an excellent average. That includes 41+ agaist Australia in Australia. It seems to be that Mahela has taken some time to get used to overseas wickets. But there is no doubt that he is one of the best batsmen in the world. However, I agree that Sanga is a better batsman. In fact, I would say that overall, given the country he comes from, given the opposition he plays against, Sanga is the best batsman in the world.

  • Michael on January 3, 2009, 12:13 GMT

    Mahela is a very good batsman. As Kumar indicates, he is likely to be rated as a great one when his career is over. He certainly is in the top rank of batsmen today. The IPL and English tour distractions have taken their toll on a decent, dedicated cricketer and human being. All credit to Mahela for having weathered the storm and stood up fo reason and justice. Megalomania such as Ranatunga's must be countered. The gutter media in Sri Lanka attacked Mahela, Kumar and other cricketers in a vitriolic, prejudiced way. I give Mahela, Kumar and the others every credit for having stood their ground. Mahela has taken the brunt of these attacks, and responded with dignity. A reflection of his values and his stature as a human being. More power to him! There are many more runs to come from that elegant bat of his. Keep it up Mahela! Good luck, always.

  • Chamila on January 3, 2009, 10:58 GMT

    I was lucky enough to go to the same school as Mahela, ..I remember during weekend matches locals passing by the gate inquires to see if Mahela's batting and would actually go and watch school cricket! My favourite batsman, even his slogs are elegant. I do hope SL gets few more tests overseas in the next few years and he will really get up there with the Pontings, Tendulkars and Kallis's.

  • Raghunath on January 3, 2009, 9:20 GMT

    Jayawardene is a very good player. However, he has still to prove that he can dominate test teams outside SL. He has scored 17 of his 24 centuries in SL. His average outside SL is 39 compared around 60 in SL. I consider Sangakarra a better player than Jayawardene, and plays especially when chips are down. I think by the time both retire Kumara would have better figures and will be considered a better player than the SL captain. Kumara is extremely modest when he writes about Mahela.


  • Rajinda on January 3, 2009, 8:18 GMT

    I guess there is always a smart Alec who like to point out the very obvious. In this case MJ's record outside of SL. Stats are what they are & they speak for themselves. Yes MJ has a better average at home. What they don't point out is that almost all SL players have the similar records, with the exception of the writer. I would like to ask these so called stat pandits, how many test matches SL played last year? How many times do you think they get to play in those & so called "non-flat" tracks? Go find those stats & then wonder if SL got more tours, what their players stats would be outside of SL. Besides, Sanga wasn't comparing MJ with any others in the world or rank him to be the best batsmen in the word. It's just a tribute to an amazingly talented player reaching something no SL player has achieved. You may not understand SL cricket to really appreciate the milestone, but the least you can do is not to tarnish the moment with your crappy comments. Here's wishing MJ another 100!

  • Dinesh on January 3, 2009, 6:48 GMT

    There is no better person to describe mahela's talent then Kumar himself. As a Sri Lankan's we are very lucky to have players like Mahela and Kumar in the same generation. I would like to Congratulate mahela for his 100th Test match and firmly belive he will score another 100 in the second innings since he has allready in the pavilion in first innings. The innings which Mahela played at Adilaide against the Englishman was truly outstanding. I still can remember what Mr.Bill Lawyry said about this at that night.

    Kumar was dead wright when he said that Mahela's catching is similler to Mark Waugh, because both of these slippers were so natural. When it comes to Mahela everything he does in the Cricket fiels is so classic, So fruitfull and so natural that why he's having all of these records in front of his name. WELDONE MAHELA KEEP IT UP FOR SRI LANKA.

  • usman on January 3, 2009, 5:36 GMT

    You Are abs right, since his start , he impressed me a lot, i used to adore Mahanama before him and then him, More then techniques and batting style , i love the genius and personality within him. He is world class player, captain and a human being. (a salute from Pakistan)

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