April 4, 2006

A sad and undeserved ending

Sanath Jayasuriya's Test career been ended on a painful note after dislocating his right thumb during the second Test against Pakistan at Kandy

Sanath Jayasuriya walks back in agony © AFP
On Tuesday evening the palm reader in the Mahaweli Reach Hotel lobby was a forlorn figure. The previous evening Sanath Jayasuriya, one of Sri Lanka's most superstitious cricketers, had sat before her with his big palms outstretched, wanting to know more about his future, a new world without Test cricket, his job for the last 15 years. She'd confidently predicted a successful future. But she'd not seen his tragically sad injury the following day. Needless to say, business was not swift on Tuesday night.

Predictably, though, Jayasuriya had not given up all hope at that stage, although his right thumb was a mess. We feared the worst immediately after Jayasuriya had pouched the 74th and last catch of his Test career. He wheeled around in agony and Tommy Simsek, the fastest physiotherapist in world cricket, was soon mothering him off the field and into the ambulance. The thumb had dislocated and the bone had ripped open the skin. Jayasuriya, now an expert in dislocations, had clicked the joint back into place himself before the painkillers numbed his senses.

Such is the adoration of Jayasuriya in Sri Lanka that his arrival at the hospital created mayhem. Patients awaiting treatment in the emergency ward were swiftly wheeled out into the corridors to make room for Jayasuriya. Before long, as he waited for an army of doctors, all desperate to fuss over him, to prepare the operating theatre, Jayasuriya's room was filled with curious cleaners, nurses and policemen. Eventually, CJ Clarke, the fitness trainer, turned bodyguard and was forced to empty the room of spectators and well-wishers.

The doctors found no fracture but the dislocation had been bad and the cut was deep. As he was whisked back to the team hotel in a rickety mini-bus flanked by police on motorbikes, the doctors informed the team management of the bad news: Jayasuriya was out of the game and all cricket for four to six weeks. Typically, though, Sanath being Sanath, he'd not given up. The next morning he appeared for breakfast in his training gear, his right hand, the top hand, bandaged up tightly. When they arrived at the ground he insisted on a painkilling injection. With the score on 73 for 8 with Murali the next man, desperate times called for desperate measures.

Thousands - Sri Lanka's Test matches, sadly, attract more than a few hundred spectators - turned up in hope that he would make one last thrilling appearance. We would have been happy to have just stood in salutation to a wonderful career as he walked on. But batting would have been madness - far madder than his breathtaking heroics last year when he guided Sri Lanka to a crucial win against India in Dambulla a few hours after dislocating his shoulder - and the doctors persuaded him not to take the chance, perhaps saving him his one-day career in the process.

In a fairer world, the series scoreline would have been a draw © AFP

It was a sad and undeservedly disappointing finale for a man and cricketer who has done so much for both Sri Lanka and the game of cricket, spreading its popularity to corners previously untouched by cricket's bug. And his ill-fortune was then compounded by Sri Lanka's hasty slide to defeat. Pakistan were faced with a potentially tricky 183-run chase but they cantered home in the end to clinch a 1-0 series victory, their third in the island.

It just wasn't Sri Lanka's day. First, we all woke up to the reality that even Jayasuriya couldn't bat without a thumb, then Sri Lanka were left with the problem of an ailing strike bowler as Farveez Maharoof was unable to rise above the flu to recreate the probing metronomy that helped dismantle Pakistan in Colombo. The new ball beat the bat a few times but whenever the edge was found it dropped agonisingly short. Sri Lanka simply had to make inroads with the new ball and when they didn't the pressure on Pakistan was punctured. Kumar Sangakkara's brilliant airborne catch to dislodge Kamran Akmal gave them brief hope but Younis Khan quickly reasserted Pakistan's control.

Muttiah Muralitharan was the only possible salvation then but it was not to be his day either as Daryl Harper - an umpire that the Sri Lankans frequently report for being substandard - turned down a series of strong lbw shouts. Muralitharan is used to the frequent super-caution of international umpires when it comes to his lbw decisions, but his exasperation can be excused when his deception is nullified during such crucial spells.

Pakistan built up an unstoppable momentum and the victory was clinched far sooner than anticipated. Sri Lanka had fought hard for the much of the series, indeed they had dominated for much of the series, but Mohammad Asif's superb fast bowling with the new ball on Tuesday evening turned out to be the difference between the two teams. In a fairer world the series scoreline would have been a draw but, as Jayasuriya now knows, life can be cruel.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent