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May 14, 2006
Mahela Jayawardene is not one of nature's most domineering cricketers. Quiet, polite and unassuming, he inherited the Sri Lankan captaincy by default when Marvan Atapattu was injured, and gives off an air of unflappability that has in the past been interpreted as meekness. For many years, his record at home and away did not stand up to scrutiny, with the bulk of his big scores coming on the flat unforgiving featherbeds at Galle and Colombo. Strange, then, that the green grass of Lord's should prove such a home from home.
Two visits, four years apart, and a century on each occasion. Only eight overseas batsman have been so prolific on the old ground. The inevitable Don Bradman heads a list containing his team-mate Bill Brown, as well as George Headley, Garry Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, Martin Crowe and Dileep Vengsarkar, whose three hundreds in three appearances (1979, 1982 and 1986) remains unique.
His geniality masks a steely temperament, and it has caught England unawares all throughout this match. His first-innings 61 was defiance in the face of adversity - his second-innings 119 was a captain's rearguard to rank with the best. It has converted a first-innings deficit of 359 into an overnight lead of 22, and just as happened with Ricky Ponting's at Old Trafford last summer, he could only be evicted via a strangle down the leg-side, five overs before the close.
"I was just was batting for the situation we were in," said Jayawardene afterwards, more delighted at the fight his side had put up, than disappointed not to still be out there. "I was batting for time mainly. If there was an opportunity to score runs I scored runs, but I just took things a session at a time. I was not thinking of anything but batting out there."
The manner of his departure still rankled, however - he clearly felt he had not gloved the delivery that Geraint Jones claimed - but this was offset by pride in his team's performance. After a desperate first innings Sri Lanka had been flirting with embarrassment, but with four wickets still standing and uncertain weather ahead, there is everything to play for in a game that was all but over after two days.
"Those things happen to Test teams," he said of the first-innings collapse. "A couple of guys got really good deliveries first up and one of them was a debutant. But you just have to get over it, and I was very happy with how quickly we got over it. We fought very well."
Jayawardene admitted Sri Lanka had ridden their luck, with both himself and Farveez Maharoof dropped in the space of an over, but sensed that it was time that the tide of fortune turned. "Things haven't gone our way for the first four days of the Test match, so hopefully something will go our way tomorrow. First things first, we need to take things very slowly and keep on batting. With Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas] to follow, and Kulasekera as well, if we can put a decent score on the board, then Murali on the fifth day could be a handful."
That man Murali has a world-record 51 five-wicket hauls to his name already. Lord's is a notable absentee on his CV. With Jayawardene already assured of another notch on that honours board, the incentive could be all the greater if the tail can eke out enough runs for him to bowl at.
There were the now-habitual concerns for Murali's shoulder after he twirled through 48 overs in the first innings, but Jayawardene shrugged off any concerns about his fitness. "He's been doing that for 10 years, so he's quite okay. After two days of rest, he's first looking forward to his batting stint because he didn't get a chance in the first innings. Anything can happen with him."