Australia v Sri Lanka, CB series, 3rd ODI, Perth February 10, 2012

Top captaincy, now for the runs

Mahela Jayawardene has been refreshingly aggressive as a leader. Sri Lanka now need him to find his batting touch

The brains in the ICC cricket committee have to routinely coming up with new regulations to take out uniformity and formula from ODIs. They introduced Powerplays to break the pattern of 15 overs' restrictions and to reduce the duration of middle overs, but the captains found a formula there too, finishing the bowling Powerplay as soon as possible and taking the batting one right at the end. To fight that, the cricket committee has introduced 15 non-Powerplay overs (11 to 15 and 41 to 50), and also one new ball for each end. If they have a good budget, they might want to clone Mahela Jayawardene too.

One of the offshoots of the turmoil in Sri Lankan cricket has been the return to captaincy of this delightfully shrewd tactician. When it came to strategy, field placings, bowling changes, even the use of DRS as India will tell you about the 2008 series, Jayawardene was peerless during his reign as captain. It was the other stuff he couldn't handle any longer. It is the other stuff Kumar Sangakkara after him couldn't handle. Now, though, that Jayawardene is back, his captaincy has brought back some freshness to a format going stale.

In the game two nights ago, India had got off to a good start in a small chase, reaching 1 for 47 in 10 overs, but Jayawardene's field settings for the next five overs almost suggested he had forgotten the new regulation that these overs were off limits for Powerplays. Unlike modern captains, Jayawardene was looking for wickets to slow runs down. That remained the story throughout the ultimately unsuccessful defence. That Sri Lanka never looked in despite quick wickets was down to rusty fielders not poor fields.

It can be argued that Jayawardene was forced to do so by the meagreness of the total. And even though it can be counter-argued that there are several other modern captains who ignore such compulsions, today, when Sri Lanka were fielding first, Jayawardene's hand was not forced. All he had was a helpful - not unplayable - pitch and a decent - by no means fearful - attack to work with. One of his bowlers even had an off day.

Yet Jayawardene attacked. The field didn't go back between over Nos 11 and 15. And after the bowling Powerplay ended, David Hussey and Michael Clarke hit the 21st over for 15 runs. Jayawardene refused to go back on the ultra defensive. His response was to bring Lasith Malinga back. Malinga got him the wicket, and Sri Lanka were attacking again.

The thing about such captaincy is that it leaves you vulnerable to a counterattack, which is why most modern captains don't try it. Even today, first Hussey and then Dan Christian tried to exploit those fields, but Jayawardene kept mixing the bowlers up and didn't bother about the boundaries as long as he stopped the easy autopilot singles. In his first two games back, Jayawardene the captain has been as good as he ever was. However, for this Sri Lankan team to come out of this political and financial rut, Jayawardene the batsman, too, will have to be as good as he ever was.

In both his innings on the tour so far, Jayawardene has not made the bowling side work for his wicket. In fact against India he looked like he could get out any ball. Today he started off better, showed a little touch before attempting a late-cut whose cuteness only subcontinent tracks with low bounce will put up with.

More importantly both those dismissals came at crucial junctures of the match. Against India he perished at the start of the batting Powerplay. Today he had a solid Dinesh Chandimal with whom he could have shepherded the chase, but left the inexperienced middle order exposed, which is where Thilan Samaraweera, who proved everybody wrong with back-to-back Test centuries in South Africa, should be batting. He might not be flash but his 70-ball 40s are exactly what Sri Lanka need in tough batting conditions.

That, though, is a story for another day. Back to Jayawardene. He last crossed 31 in an international match in November in Sharjah. His last special knock was the second-innings century against Australia in Galle in August. And he hasn't usually been bad in ODIs in England, South Africa and Australia. Unlike in Tests, where his average drops from 50 overall to 31 in these three countries, his ODI average deviates only by two units, from 33 to 31.

Jayawardene will get a chance to right that Test dip next year when for the first time in his career he will get to play a Test at the MCG, but the ODI chance is here and now. He has made a bold move by accepting the thorny crown that is Sri Lanka captaincy, but whatever he targets to achieve will not happen without help from Jayawardene the batsman.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ameer on February 13, 2012, 21:17 GMT

    Well, thanks Monga for this article, give credit where it is due, I think tactically MJ is a better captain than Clarke or Dhoni, Sri Lanka are not a strong outfit and credit should be given to MJ for the way heis able to use the side as it is. In fact as a tactician he is better than the great Arjuna even

  • Lalindra on February 12, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    Sri Lanka need to be ruthless!!No matter, you have the top captain or the no 1 test batsman in your side if you can't pull off matches where you could easily do matter if Mahela's cricketing brain is the cunning,clever or strategically best brain because his plan is good as the on field sri Lanka's performance.if chapely can see from the commentators box that malinga should have finished his last over when da Aussies were 192/8,any baby watching the match know that you always bring in a fast bowler to finish off da opponents innings,so why couldn't the on field captain @ that time didn't have the brains to finish the Australian innings off.if u closely study Ian chapely when ever he says something smart,the on field captain of Australia whether its ponting or Clarke they implement that plan by instinct because those basic things are instilled by people like chappaly from grass root levels to implement when needed the sri Lanka theirs no mechanism as such so S.L pay.

  • sri on February 12, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    I rate Arjuna the Best Captain SL has had. He had a simple but effective formula for the SL side. He would always opt to field first irrespective of the state of the pitch- a strategy that was adopted to minimise the effect of a batting collapse if SL batted first and collapsed for a paltry total which would make the result of the match a foregone conclusion within the first hour or so. Additionally he would not take crap from any umpire or opposing player who would resort to using intimidatory tactics to make him look stupid. He on the otherhand would dish it out to them in double doses which earned him the epithet " GUNBOAT CAPTAIN ". Mahela could do well to emulate the great Arjuna in order to get SL back on track to winning matches.

  • Rajinda on February 11, 2012, 17:55 GMT

    In the argument of who's the better Capt. SLs will always say it's Arjuna due to WC win & change to how we play the game. But people who know & has played cricket will say MJ is better on the field, reading the game. Here's what Arjuna him self had said about Mahela (from a recent ISLAND article) which sums up a lot! " "In the mid-90s, playing for SSC, when the opposition was putting up a partnership, fielding from short midwicket I used to ponder a means to break that stand. A couple of deliveries later I would have a fair idea which bowler to use and what field to set to take that wicket. As I made up my mind, I found Mahela Jayawardene sprinting to me & saying; why don't you try this to get the breakthrough? It just happened to be the same thing I had been thinking. At that point, I had played over 75 Tests, won a World Cup & done it all. But here was an 18-year-old, just out of school, whose thinking was in the same capacity as that of a veteran Test cricketer." - Arjuna Ranatunge

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2012, 17:54 GMT

    @sidhart monga....why didnt u praised mahela when he lost to india.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2012, 17:52 GMT

    sihart monga plz stop writing man u dont deserve to be a wriote in cricinfo...bad cricket knowledge n bad brain

  • Manoj on February 11, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    Yes mahela is a good captain. bt wt is main job in SL team. is a middle order batsmen. hw many times he faild to do that.Wn he is in t team will lost. in SA last 2 games he wasent there we won. wn he comes 2 team unbalanced t team. mahela u play that u can get runs. dont think ur a goodbatsmen though u have all t shorts in the book. look hw wel chandimal plays at ur position. learn frm them!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2012, 14:29 GMT

    Mahela was one of the best captains we (Sri Lanka) have ever produced. According to me the best captain we have ever produce was Grate Arjuna Ranathunga. Arjuna was the true leader of the SL because he created the players. Such as Aravinda, Murali, Sanath, Vaas, Mahanama, Upul Chandana He bring new concepts to the game and he gave the freedom to the players. Once I remember Aravinda said he was asked to be ready to play for the 3rd bowl of the match because sanath and kalu can get out with no time. That's how arjuna gave the freedom for the players to play and that's how he protect the players. Mahela was lucky to handle the one of the best teams. He had Murali, Vaas, Malinga. When he need a wicket he just have to throw a ball to someone in the team. They did the job.. So we can't compare the old mahela captancy and new mahela. Unlucky Dilshan (never got the support from the team) created some new players like chandimal.. Lets see how Mahela going to get the service of them.

  • Joe on February 11, 2012, 14:26 GMT

    Well balanced article. Samaraweera's omission is mind boggling. Apparently Sri Lanka is preparing for the next world cup !! Play the best team and win matches now & build confidence. Get the rankings where they should be first. On the present strategy Sri Lanka will join the ranks of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe soon.

  • Sam on February 11, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    Mahela is much better captain than Dhoni, even better than Clarke. Frankly SL always has best captains in the sub continent ( Arjuna -Best ever, Atapatthu, Sanga). Unfortunatly for SL Jayawardane's form is so bad in near past. He can get couple of good scores & again get lot of bad scores. SL has very good captain & batman-Samaraweera. So they have to drop aging Jayawardane & give chance to in form batman. Also Jayawardane creates lot of prblems in past. He didnt give 100% when Atapatthu & Dilshan captain the team. He was against when VASS got the vice captaincy & always creates problems in the team, when things going not his way. SO JAYAWARDANE NOT SHOULD BE IN THE TEAM.

  • No featured comments at the moment.