Jayawardene adds grit to grace for winning formula
Twenty-five men were in the Deccan Chargers' huddle at the 10-over strategy break. All the support staff had come out. Out in the middle, Mahela Jayawardene rested on his bat. Alone. Tom Moody had just left after a chat and Irfan Pathan, the new batsman, had run to the dug-out. The equation was 83 needed from 60 balls with six wickets in hand.
Jayawardene had just seen two of his best batsmen implode in a brain freeze. Kumar Sangakkara stood motionless for a few seconds after being cleaned up, trying to paddle-sweep a seamer, and Yuvraj Singh miscued a pull shot on the last ball of the 10th over. Jayawardene shook his head when Sangakkara fell and looked up to the skies when Yuvraj followed.
When Irfan came up, they had a chat and the plan ahead was charted. "We spoke about batting for five overs and try to get six runs per over," Jayawardene later said. "Leave the rest for the last five. You just need to plan your chase. Bat till the end overs and see what can be done." And we saw what he could do.
Jayawardene is a delightfully graceful batsman with such languid movements that it's always a treat to watch him bat. He usually seems to waft his wand and the ball speeds away. Today, though, the situation needed him to get his hands dirty, dig deep and graft. When the moment came, there might have to be a ugly swipe over midwicket or a slog to cow corner. Would he? He did.
That's the difference between a world-class player and the merely pretty, who don't seem willing to play - or may not even possess - the slog hits. Dwayne Bravo, for instance. Against Hyderabad, in a crucial over at the end of the run-chase, Bravo kept trying his conventional big hits like the flick over midwicket or the lofted shot over long-on but couldn't pull it off. Never did he try to clear the front foot and have a swing over midwicket. The game sunk with that over, as has happened in a couple of other chases as well. Not so with Jayawardene.
After two quiet overs with Irfan came the first blow - a hoick over midwicket but with the same signature economy of hand movement. His hands don't seem to move an inch more than necessary for the chosen shot - unlike most other batsmen, who usually have a full swing, with the bat ending behind their head when they play the hoick.
In the stands, at the beer counter, one man commented loudly: "This bloke is going to win the game for his team. What a stylish player." Another, who had been barracking every fielder standing in the deep in front of him, guffawed. "He looks too weak. He won't be able to hit the big shots." The equation then was 62 needed from 47 balls. In the middle, Jayawardene was quietly picking the singles. It was almost risk-free cricket for a couple more overs; he was delaying the assault, saving the wickets. That was the plan.
However, Irfan fell and Wilkin Mota ran himself out, turning for the second run after Jayawardene had pinged long-on. As Mota walked back, Jayawardene kept staring at the big screen; thinking, planning, calculating. It's been just over two months since he and his Sri Lankan teammates survived a terrorist attack in Lahore. He told Cricinfo earlier in this tournament how playing in the IPL has been therapeutic for him: "Your mind is busy working on tactics and how to face the next game. So it keeps you occupied."
Two had departed in two overs. Would he ask the new batsman Brett Lee, who is capable of swinging his bat, to go for the big shots or would he try to do it? The answer came when he got strike two balls later and, facing T Suman, turned on the aggression. He swung a six over midwicket on bent knee and lifted the next over long-on. The game had turned around. He brought the equation down further in the next over with a four to square leg but was run out, trying to retain the strike for the last ball. He couldn't beat a stunning throw from Ravi Teja from deep backward point and as he neared the crease, cramps had set in as well.
As Gilchrist & Co. celebrated, Jayawardene was hobbling in pain a few feet behind the stumps. He turned, threw his bat in disgust before picking it up and trudging off. It must have been the same sinking feeling he had when he had got out in the last game against Chennai after being involved in an almost match-winning partnership with Yuvraj. He needn't have feared today. Brett Lee and Piyush Chawla got them home in the end and Punjab, courtesy Jayawardene, won a very important game to stay in the hunt for the semi-final spot.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo