October 5, 2012

A man who speaks for a nation

Wright Thompson
Mahela Jayawardene is in touch with his country's troubled past but is also the face of a brighter future
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Three years ago, the Sri Lankan cricket team rode through the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, on the third day of a Test match. Captain Mahela Jayawardene, who is to his country what Derek Jeter is to the city of New York, rode near the back of the bus. The convoy, with a police escort, rolled through the streets outside the stadium. Mahela, known as MJ, took out his phone to call his wife, and that's when they all heard what sounded like fireworks. Someone shouted, "They're shooting at the bus!" They heard the bullets, marching down the side exposed to the terrorist gunmen, sounding like rain on a metal roof. Mahela dived for the floor, and the first 30 seconds of what happened next ended up on Christina Jayawardene's voicemail. An RPG flew over the bus. A grenade rolled under it. It was a blur: policemen being shot in the street, dying on a Tuesday morning, bullets striking the tires, players screaming. When she played the message for Mahela's oldest friend, tears flowed down her face as he listened.

"I got hit," her husband shouted, and she heard the fear in his voice. Next his friend and fellow star Kumar Sangakkara, also a cricket legend, got hit with shrapnel, too, then another and another. Six in all were wounded, only one by a bullet. Soon, the bus driver would heroically drive them to safety, and Mahela would call the president of Sri Lanka on a private number, flexing for the first time anyone could remember, telling the politician to get him and his boys home. But on the floor of the bus, wounded by shrapnel and bleeding, Mahela felt sure that he'd die outside a stadium, killed for the crime of being a cricket star in a part of the world where the games seem to matter way more than they should.

Three years later, today …

Sri Lanka are in the semi-finals of the World Twenty20, playing Pakistan again, this time in the safety of Colombo. The island is a strange and beautiful place, with dark restaurants serving enormous pepper crab, white-front colonial hotels glowing in the distance. The deep blue of the Indian Ocean is visible out of every window, and like the ocean, there is a shadow of violence that's never far away.

Locals bring it up it casually, not because they don't want you to know about the past, but because it was so common for so long that it doesn't really rise to the level of news. The stadium where the game will be played, someone said the other day, is named after a president assassinated during the long civil war. A late-night party was at a boutique hotel, which had been the home to an assassinated prime minister who was shot on the balcony. Earlier in the week, at a local television and radio studio, Shanaka Amarasinghe, the host of the nation's most popular sports talk show, pointed at the multiple layers of security inside the compound. During the war, he explained, thugs attacked and burned the place, in response to criticism.

Waiting on the show to begin, Amarasinghe brought up a play called "The History Boys." He recited a quote that described the challenge in Sri Lanka today: History is not something that involves the recent past. "We have no perspective on what we've just done," he said.

The civil war ended three years ago, about two months after the bus attack in Pakistan. Military scholars gush over the brutal simplicity of the government's endgame: basically, they killed everyone in the leadership of the LTTE, the rebel army, known around the world as the Tamil Tigers. History will judge their actions, Amarasinghe said. Whatever comes next is still being sorted out. A knife's edge, that's where the country is, somewhere between the war of the past and the peace of the future. That's what people talk about in the uncertain present, and in the middle of this painful conversation, there is a cricket tournament. Sri Lanka are in the semi-finals, two wins away from its first world title since 1996.

"Right now," Amarasinghe said, "we need a hero."

At the centre of many expectations

The day before the game, Mahela sat in the Cinnamon Grand hotel, drinking tea with his wife and some friends. When he laughed, his whole face lightened and his shoulders heaved up and down. He laughs with his whole body. Christina and Mahela look like a cute couple, if that makes sense, and he seems to smile more when she's around. As he made small talk, she leaned over to his ear and asked if he wanted a mocha, trying to make even the smallest thing easier. She wore a trendy green dress and carried a big Louis Vuitton Neverfull. When they first started dating, his friends wondered why he gave her so much control, and if that was healthy, but now they understand.

Everyone looked at Mahela, but nobody interrupted his tea. The lobby is the future Sri Lanka wants for itself: the peaceful gurgle of a fountain, the piano in the bar, the chandeliers reflecting off buffed floors. In the back, sleek restaurants open onto the terraced pool. Outside the coffee shop, Kumar Sangakkara walked through the tables and saw his friend.

Mahela and Kumar - MJ and Sanga - are two of the best cricketers in the world, millionaires and subcontinent celebrities. They are often mentioned in the same breath - Coca-Cola billboards all over Colombo show them together, enjoying a cold bottle - and it's together they've known their greatest success. Mahela is one of only six players, including Sachin Tendulkar, to score 10,000 runs in both Tests and one-day internationals. Kumar, a former captain, is close to becoming the seventh. Together, they hold the record for the highest score by a partnership in Test match history, 624 against South Africa, batting for nearly two and a half days. They are as connected in the history books as they are in the imagination of their countrymen.

They also couldn't be more different. Mahela is quiet and earnest. Kumar is boisterous and sophisticated. When Mahela is taken by a friend to meet a reporter, he apologetically asks if he might finish tea first. When Kumar is led across the hotel bar by one fan to meet another, he grins and hams it up, rolling his eyes. Mahela, with his open smile, looks like someone you would trust with your taxes. Kumar, with his Hollywood curls, looks like someone you wouldn't trust with your sister. They are old and dear friends who've been on a journey only they really understand, walking together onto hostile pitches around the world, hiding on the floor of a wounded and smoking bus. When fans see them together in the lobby, they recognize one first - MJ! - and then the other - My God, Sanga! - and, by the time they've processed their luck in a double sighting of Sri Lankan cricket royalty, they're about too flustered to speak.

Mahela checks his watch. There's a bowlers meeting in 40 minutes, and as team captain, he needs to fine-tune their strategy. He sits down, leans in, and in a quiet and steady voice, tells the story of his life, and Kumar's life, and everyone who has lived in Sri Lanka for the past three decades of death and division. When he tells it, it is oddly a story of hope.

"I grew up with the war," he says. "I'm 35 years old. From six, seven years old, I remember the war, the bombs going off, and all that. I literally grew up - so that's my generation."

The Lost Generation, found

They never knew a Sri Lanka without conflict.

Mahela grew up hearing explosions in Colombo. "I have two, three school friends who caught a couple of bombs," he says. "I have a friend who still has shrapnel inside his body. He has to carry a certificate whenever he travels, going through machines and all that." People his age learned the smell of burned bodies on the roadside and the sight of bloated corpses bobbing in the river. In 1983, during the violent riots where Sinhalese attacked their Tamil neighbours, Kumar's Sinhalese father moved three dozen or so Tamils into his home and hid them from the roving squads of killers, like something out of Anne Frank. The children played in the yard until Kumar's father would rush them upstairs to hide, in silence. Kumar crouched as the killers went door to door. The easy-going, good-looking cricket star on television has that in his memory.

In the midst of this terror, they tried to do the normal things: playing sports, chasing dreams. Mahela, even at a young age, was a prodigy. The adults looked at him and predicted great success, and while Kumar is known for working harder than anyone else on the team, Mahela is known as someone who never stumbled on the jagged rocks of expectation. "He's from a very average family," says his oldest friend Sanjeewa Jayawardene, known to everyone as Java. "He had a younger brother, who also played cricket."

The brother was named Dhishal, and when Dhishal was 16, during an otherwise normal day at school, he collapsed. Doctors diagnosed a tumour, and Mahela's father sold almost everything they owned, borrowing to make up the difference. He found enough money to fly to London to the best hospital they could find. Dhishal survived the first operation, but when the cancer returned, and his dad sold the rest of their possessions, he didn't survive the second. He died and the family returned home, broke and broken. "Mahela had his bat and the shoes," Java says. "When he came back, they didn't have anything. Not a TV, nothing."

Mahela didn't play cricket for months, his bat and shoes in the closet. Finally his team-mates convinced him to come back against their biggest rival. Even rusty, he dominated, and from that moment on, his destiny was clear. He'd be the best batsman in his country. Success came quickly, and everything he made, he used to pay off his family's hospital debts. His cricket success would always be tied to the loss of his brother, which he hates to talk about. When cricket media want to do documentaries, he bristles when they use photographs of Dhishal because he knows his parents will watch, and he knows the sight of his brother will make them cry. His new friends don't know much about Dhishal, and his old ones know not to ask. But the memory is there, just one of many scars for a child of Sri Lanka's civil war. In his hotel room, Java says in the lobby of the Cinnamon Grand, he always sets up a shrine. Two photographs, one of his wife, the other of his brother, happy and very much alive, which is how Dhishal is best remembered.

Mahela takes that photograph everywhere he travels.

Leading

Several years ago, Mahela finished a high-profile Test match down the coast in Galle, against England, the former colonial overlords. Test matches are physically and mentally exhausting, more so for the captain. In American sports, the captain is a largely ceremonial title. In cricket, he makes every decision about on-field strategy. Mahela led Sri Lanka to a hard-fought draw in the Test match - and a victory in the overall series - scoring a 213, not out, which is like going for 55 points in a basketball game.

The next morning, with Java shaking his head, Mahela said his local cricket club in Colombo had a game, and he thought he should show up and play. Imagine Tiger Woods winning the Masters, then humping it back for a low-profile pro-am. Java said Mahela even called the club and apologised that he'd be at the grounds only an hour and a half before the first ball instead of the customary two hours.

In the execution of a fielding strategy he designed, he sprinted across the pitch after each over, putting himself in the most difficult position instead of delegating it, and his hunch paid off: in the closing overs of the match, a long ball came straight to him, and he caught it. Being a cricket captain, like being someone a nation can look up to, isn't about grand pronouncements. It requires a series of small actions, repeated over and over, day after day.

Lessons about power

Java tells a story about his friend.

This happened a few years back, a month after finishing a crushing second in the 2007 World Cup. It was during the war, when checkpoints regularly stopped traffic on the highways. Java and Mahela, the team captain, rode back late at night from a friend's funeral. Java drove. It was dark and empty on the garrison road. The troops stopped them. It was dark, the soldiers focused and on edge, the cricket star was out of context. Java was exhausted and needed to get home. "Tell him who you are," Java begged. "I won't," Mahela said.

Java laughs now in the hotel lobby. "This guy asked for the ID," he says, "so he gave him the ID. The ID doesn't say 'Mahela Jayawardene,' it says 'Denagamage Proboth Mahela de Silva Jayawardene.' Even if you read it, it doesn't click, unless you look for it, you know?"

They waited on the soldiers to finish searching their car and then drove on to town. Java was annoyed and wanted to know why Mahela wouldn't do something so simple that would speed up their day. "I may play cricket," he said, "but let them do their job."

It's just a little example, a random moment, but in Sri Lanka, where everyone uses whatever influence they can accumulate, it is significant. Last Sunday's newspaper carried a typical full-page story about a top official's son who allegedly pulled a gun on a general - a tour de force of dropped names and threats - and during a civil war, people learned lessons about power quickly and simply: if you don't have it, get it; when you have it, use it. Mahela had power, and he wouldn't spend it on his own convenience. In a time of war, that might make him naive. But in a nation trying to reinvent itself as place of peace, that makes him a star in the sky.

A healing

Mahela tells a story about himself, about Sri Lanka's past and future, and what a cricket game can mean. Everyone knows how many people died when the tsunami hit Thailand in 2004, but not as many know that the same waves roared ashore in Sri Lanka, in both the south and the war-torn north. More than 30,000 people lost their lives. Many just disappeared, washed out to sea. The government and the rebels stopped fighting, and the cricket team, one of the only things each side could agree on, went north to carry aid. They found that rebel soldiers, who'd been fighting a guerilla war for decades, knew their results and their records. Like any other fans, they made suggestions about lineup changes, and offered opinions on who could bat best against offspinners. Mahela said that standing in a war-zone, hearing the people he knew as the enemy talking with such passion and ownership about the Sri Lankan cricket team, he left with the hope that they might one day feel that way about something else, and then something else, until a broken nation is whole again.

The possibilities and limitations

There are, of course, limits to what a cricket star can do, to what a team winning a game can accomplish, and if Sri Lanka's World Cup victory in 1996 proves anything, it's that cynicism and violence can squander any momentary wave of joy.

But they can raise money and carry supplies to the north, and they can play hard and win. They can address small problems. They can show up at a club match after a five-day Test. They can battle the corruption and cynicism that could drag Sri Lanka back to its past, a circle of petty score-settling and division. They can accumulate power and try their best to use it for good.

Kumar, who is really a brilliant speaker and writer, chose the most public forum possible. The Marylebone Cricket Club in London, the self-proclaimed guardians of the game, invited him to give the annual Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. He was the first active cricketer to do so. A friend asked if he needed help. Kumar smiled and said no. He knew just what the moment required. He gave no quarter, standing before a room of cricket legends and a bank of cameras. Most headlines at home came from his unsparing and specific criticism against the corruption in Sri Lankan cricket. Sitting in the hotel lobby, Mahela laughs about the speech and the fallout that followed. "I knew it would be interesting knowing Kumar," Mahela says, seeming even a little in awe of his articulate friend.

Mahela has fought this battle, too, in his own way. In 2009, he resigned the captaincy, in part because he grew tired of fighting the backroom power plays. Sri Lanka's own sports minister once described the cricket board as the third most corrupt organisation in the country, behind the schools and the police. Mahela didn't need power that bad. Ten months ago, he returned to the job. His team needed him, and you can't help but think that, at least in part, it's because he knows what an important time this is. The end of his career is much closer than the beginning, and the new Sri Lanka will be made in the next few years, by people his age, the ones who inherited the war and saw it end.

"You want to take that ownership," Mahela says. "This is a great opportunity for our generation to try and bridge that gap and then help the next generation to heal by itself. Our generation has been through the war, so that emotionally, it'll be tough for them, but for the next generation it'll be much easier."

They can set an example. That's what Kumar's speech was, really: the example, and the lessons, of a generation. The story of Mahela, and Dhishal, and the Sinhalese who attacked their neighbours and the Tamils hiding in Kumar's house, of the Sri Lankans who will cheer today, and of those who will play.

Kumar talked about the riots. He wove his life through bombs, and the fear, and the hope, the arc following the history of cricket, and how it could provide the road map for a new country. The most emotional part, for him and for listeners, came when describing what happened after the assassination attempt in Pakistan. At a checkpoint a week later, a soldier asked if his injuries were healing. Kumar said everything felt good, and that he suffered only a few moments of gunfire, while soldiers are threatened by it daily. The soldier's answer stuck with Kumar.

"It is OK if I die," he said, "Because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country."

Beyond the myth

There's a photograph you should look at during the match, especially when Mahela makes the long walk from the pavilion to the centre of the pitch, with a nation holding its breath. It's the other side of soldiers calling cricketers heroes, and it's much closer to the truth. The photograph was taken after the terrorist attack in Pakistan, when the players returned safely home, landing at the airport in Colombo. Officials showed up to greet them, and maybe end up on the news. Parents showed up for the younger players, wives and children for the older ones. Christina arrived without her usual calm and polish, rushing to wrap her arms around Mahela. The homecoming was a nationalist outpouring of love, relief and anger, a chance for cricket to again carry water for big ideas that have nothing to do with bowling a ball, or batting it. A photographer caught the couple walking away, and he seems exhausted, and she seems pale, and all around them, there is chaos. But look at the bottom of the picture. They are holding hands, fingers locked tight, a husband and a wife doing the best they can in a part of the world where the games seem to matter way more than they should.

Wright Thompson, a senior writer with ESPN.com, continues his discovery of cricket though the World Twenty20. You can read more from him here and you can follow ESPN.com's coverage of the World Twenty20 here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Fisk3679 on October 8, 2012, 0:14 GMT

    Sanga's comments from the time suggest he new nothing about the Sewag no-ball issue: http://www.espncricinfo.com/sl-tri2010/content/story/472752.html

  • chandrathej on October 7, 2012, 17:50 GMT

    Excellent article written about two modern legends.. from Indian Sanga fan

  • on October 7, 2012, 2:32 GMT

    great article .. many thanx..

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:56 GMT

    @sunny346 , Sangakkara never asked the bowler to bowl a no ball...you just got your facts wrong or you did it intentionally to insult him..Sri Lankans please don't argue with him here, I think he wants to start a fight here...and after all its really funny to know that the spirit of cricket is all about a centuries for you...oh man, thats the reason you have world class players and ordinary team same as the rich country with poor people....

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:32 GMT

    interesting one , .. proud to be a sri lankan ..

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    I really enjoyed reading this, Thank you :)

  • kesy777 on October 6, 2012, 13:12 GMT

    Wow... one of the best articles that i have read. hats off.

  • wijitha_srilanka on October 6, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    Thank you MR.Thompson for such a great article. Feel really lucky to be fans of such a great players.

  • on October 6, 2012, 0:04 GMT

    great read thompson..hatz off..it is such a pleasure to read about two such a true legends of the game and we are so proud that these two amazing,honest and true gentlemen of the game are sri lankans. These two guys are true honour not only to sri lanka or cricket,these two are such a great characters in the whole sports wolrd..

  • kiran_iitm on October 5, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    +1 to cricinfo !!!! Whole world should be proud to have players like MJ and KS !!!!!

  • Fisk3679 on October 8, 2012, 0:14 GMT

    Sanga's comments from the time suggest he new nothing about the Sewag no-ball issue: http://www.espncricinfo.com/sl-tri2010/content/story/472752.html

  • chandrathej on October 7, 2012, 17:50 GMT

    Excellent article written about two modern legends.. from Indian Sanga fan

  • on October 7, 2012, 2:32 GMT

    great article .. many thanx..

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:56 GMT

    @sunny346 , Sangakkara never asked the bowler to bowl a no ball...you just got your facts wrong or you did it intentionally to insult him..Sri Lankans please don't argue with him here, I think he wants to start a fight here...and after all its really funny to know that the spirit of cricket is all about a centuries for you...oh man, thats the reason you have world class players and ordinary team same as the rich country with poor people....

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:32 GMT

    interesting one , .. proud to be a sri lankan ..

  • on October 6, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    I really enjoyed reading this, Thank you :)

  • kesy777 on October 6, 2012, 13:12 GMT

    Wow... one of the best articles that i have read. hats off.

  • wijitha_srilanka on October 6, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    Thank you MR.Thompson for such a great article. Feel really lucky to be fans of such a great players.

  • on October 6, 2012, 0:04 GMT

    great read thompson..hatz off..it is such a pleasure to read about two such a true legends of the game and we are so proud that these two amazing,honest and true gentlemen of the game are sri lankans. These two guys are true honour not only to sri lanka or cricket,these two are such a great characters in the whole sports wolrd..

  • kiran_iitm on October 5, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    +1 to cricinfo !!!! Whole world should be proud to have players like MJ and KS !!!!!

  • sunny346 on October 5, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    "Kumar Sangakkara delivered a passionate Spirit of Cricket lecture" i dont accept that because he is the captain who asked to bowl wide when india need 1 run to win when sechwag is on 99runs at striker end .. he does not want sechwag to reach hundred.is he has right to say about spirit of cricket

  • Sinhaya on October 5, 2012, 19:03 GMT

    Great article indeed! Simply superb knowledge about cricket for an American

  • JaDeD_INDIAN on October 5, 2012, 18:52 GMT

    Even thought most people in Sri Lanka hate Indians and our team let me tell you that we love Sri Lankan players from Mahela, Sanga, Arvinda, Murali,Sanath and we always will. Brilliant articile.

  • on October 5, 2012, 15:51 GMT

    i'm really proud to be a Srilankan .

  • on October 5, 2012, 14:43 GMT

    It's overwhelming to read such a good article which is quite emotional. I experienced this civil war along with Mahela and Sanga all my life too and I know the grim side of it. Cricket is the only saving grace we had for years

  • BroccoliPower on October 5, 2012, 14:06 GMT

    Might be the first article on cricinfo that does not have even a single negative comment! Simply wonderful! No one can never disrespect such gentlemen, on or off the field.

  • on October 5, 2012, 13:21 GMT

    a heart touching article! i feel proud to have such players,

  • on October 5, 2012, 13:13 GMT

    Sri Lankans can justifiably be proud of these gentlemen. Please take Sachin and give us Mahela and Sanga.

  • ThusyNathan on October 5, 2012, 13:00 GMT

    This article made me to register in Cricinfo. Great article. Hats off to Thomson.

  • on October 5, 2012, 12:56 GMT

    My respect towards MJ has increased after reading this :) Hope to see both MJ and Sanga have a World cup credit to their amazing careers...Definitely the best of the players in the cricketing world :) All the best for the finals :)

  • KarachiKid on October 5, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    The whole Pakistan is in total awe of these modern day greats. They have tormented Pakistani bowlers since forever, but they are artists in their own right and perfect gentlemen. We salute you.

  • on October 5, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!!.....

  • stormy16 on October 5, 2012, 12:43 GMT

    Thats a fantastic read about a fantastic cricketer and most interesting the non-cricket point of view. We only ever seem to think of Mahela as the best cover driver or slip catch but this was an opening up of the real Mahela. The author should do more on other international players.

  • on October 5, 2012, 12:27 GMT

    Good write, Mr. Thompson. You have captured the salient features of a close friendship - Sri Lankan style. Cricket brings to light a bond that continues beyong the game. I am still close friends with my team mates of 1962-1964. When we meet in Sri Lanka or Chicago or Toronto, it is a blast. The article articulates brilliantly the friendship between Mahela and Kumar - first as team mates and then as personal friends. It also explains Mahela's life as a simple person who does not throw his weight around. Having left Sri Lanka 38 years ago, I found this article very refreshing and readable. Almost brought me to tears about the story of Mahela's brother!

  • on October 5, 2012, 12:25 GMT

    the greatest article that I have ever read.

  • Vaibhav_G18 on October 5, 2012, 12:16 GMT

    One of the best articles i've read on cricket. Puts forth the man behind the cricketer and that sports is so much more than what we just see on the TV. These two men personsify and epitomize the word "gentlemen". Just makes us realize the fact that sports is a mirror of life in its own ways.

  • on October 5, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    absolutely dazzling article...

  • on October 5, 2012, 11:59 GMT

    Thought provoking! cannot leave incomplete.

  • jerryman on October 5, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    brilliant article , thank you for your insight into 2 modern day SL legends .. tahnsk again for an outsiders perspective

  • Criket_fan on October 5, 2012, 11:23 GMT

    I truly appreciate Mr.Wright Thompson for wiriting this marvelous article.A big salute.I wonder how you got this facts as you are not from srilanka.A class act.

  • Criket_fan on October 5, 2012, 11:17 GMT

    I am Srilankan Tamil.Our elders love Indian Cricket Team more than Srilanka because of this civil war.But when Sanga and Mahela entered into international arena our people started to love Srilankan Cricket team.Year by year it increased.People started to admire the character of Sanga and Mahela.The love extended beyond cricket.Now we are die hard fans of Srilanka.Mahela and co realised when they visited north of the country.Its like festival when they come here.I am praying for a worldcup win.Cricinfo team pls publish

  • Cricket_gods_of_Nalanda on October 5, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    Poem for Mahela

    The way he plays the game, I wish it could be me. But the fact of the matter is His name is Mahela J.

    His future had been decided, It was written in the stars. Where had this lad come from, Probably From the greatest school in the world? Born and raised in Colombo,

    A Nalandian at heart, His talent on the cricket pitch Is like a work of art

    By

    Wisanka Amarasinghe A Very proud Nalandian

  • Psychopathetikka on October 5, 2012, 10:55 GMT

    Excellent article.. Wright Thompson has captured all the emotions of being a Sri Lankan and being a Sri Lanakn cricket fan.. Lovely, just lovely..

  • Casmiar on October 5, 2012, 10:52 GMT

    Really a very good article it's proud to be a Sri lanakan ...yes they are cricket Heroes,

  • on October 5, 2012, 10:48 GMT

    Lovely lovely lovely thank you very much Mr Thompson

  • on October 5, 2012, 10:34 GMT

    What a brilliant article. Thanks Wright Thompson for enlightening the world on what a gentleman Mahela is. One of the best articles I have ever read.......!!!!

  • on October 5, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    What makes this article interesting to read is the way the writer has lined up the facts. Being an American perhaps he may not have much knowledge in the fine details of the game itself. This has created an opportunity for him to explore things about MJ and Sanga other than the game itself. This article should go down as one of the best in the history of sport write ups. Well done Wright Thompson!

  • on October 5, 2012, 10:02 GMT

    a very nice & interesting article

  • Anuranga_Gunathilake on October 5, 2012, 9:59 GMT

    Great article... pure Class.. I am so proud that I too belong to the same Sri Lankan generation that the writer is relating Mahela and Sanga. ( The generation that grew up with the war ). This has taught us a lot and shaped us to meet the challenges the life throws at us.

  • VarunaRatnaweera on October 5, 2012, 9:47 GMT

    Thanks for a great piece of work by the Wright Thompson , gives a real insight into the characters of two outstanding cricketers and above all two great gentlemen in Mahela and Sanga

  • yasserrizwan on October 5, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    Great points made. One of finest pieces ever read about a cricketer. Born an Indian but love Sri Lankan cricket team since i was a kid. Post DeSilvas,Jayasuriyas,Vaas & Murali, we had Sanga,Mahela. Hope the next gen raises its game to be revered & called in same breath as these masters of game.

  • grizzle on October 5, 2012, 9:39 GMT

    Brilliant article! Thanks, Wright Thompson!

  • Sinhabahu on October 5, 2012, 9:18 GMT

    Great stuff. Simply brilliant!

  • Perera32 on October 5, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    What a brilliant article. Thanks Wright Thompson for wrting one of the best articles i've ever read.

  • on October 5, 2012, 8:48 GMT

    Never complete reading this much of long article before this! this is one of the best.. always loved mj,sanga& sl cricketers this article make me so proud to be a fan of such a wonderful players!!! great article well done wright thompson!

  • CUPULW on October 5, 2012, 8:34 GMT

    photo is in this article :) http://sports.espn.go.com/extra/cricket/news/story?id=8458155

  • KingCobra5 on October 5, 2012, 8:29 GMT

    bening an indian i am in awe of jaya and sanga :)

  • on October 5, 2012, 8:23 GMT

    Thanks Thompson for your artical ,it gaves lot of thing abt sl cricket :)

  • CricketPissek on October 5, 2012, 8:17 GMT

    Why hasn't cricinfo posted the photo in question, when ESPN's own website has??? That's very silly of you. Here is the original article which has the photo http://sports.espn.go.com/extra/cricket/news/story?id=8458155

  • Philip_Gnana on October 5, 2012, 8:14 GMT

    I am reading this write up before starting work this morning here in London. What a a fantastic piece of history, present and the future all put in to one. The personal touch, reading this article made the hairs on my neck and hand stand up. I had not known that MJ's telephone calls went to a voicemail. What Christine would have had to go through. This article will have to go down in history as one of the best that you would ever find on these cricket pages. Well done Wright Thompson and God bless you man. Philip Gnana, Surrey

  • on October 5, 2012, 8:03 GMT

    Actually, I wonder where these words coming from....frankly speaking,a pure brilliant article........I red 4 times..and will be reading another time.....

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Brilliant.One would never have got this quality and class in an article from any of our sports journalists.For the first time all Sri Lankans come to know what our stars are made of and how adorable they are.Hats off to the writer.

  • TharinduChat on October 5, 2012, 7:55 GMT

    Absolutely breathtaking piece of writing by Wright Thompson. Really moving and inspiring to read the life outside cricket for the face of Sri Lanka cricket for the last decade. MJ and Sanga are indeed legendary cricketers and two wonderful gentlemen.

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    what a good read!

  • mcji5sa2 on October 5, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    This is not just one of the best articles I've read on cricinfo but one of the best I've read anywhere in a long time. Whilst many know most of the stories in the article, the way it's written and depth in just the right places has brought tears to my eyes. Fantastic stuff!

  • Nmiduna on October 5, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    my first comment was not published may be coz it involved politics..or its just plain too long...but whatever the case, all i wanted to tell was this is a unique and truly touching piece of writing! as @devinda has said, its touching coz its true..and i hope and pray that these two gentlemen will be able to serve much more to our country's cause and continue to make us proud at a time when there's no real hero to be proud of! nice nice stuff Wright Thompson:)

  • Garretjacks on October 5, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    What an article... so touching.

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    Its the one of the best article i read on ESPN CricInfo...its really visualize past of MJ and Sanga....True Legends of Lanka ... Hats off to all guys related to this article !!!

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:30 GMT

    wow. wonderful article by wright thomposn. amazing, thumps up

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Oh Wright, you are such a great man, excellent article, Perfect.... Salute to my Mahela and Sanga......

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:26 GMT

    SIMPLY AN AWESOME ARTICLE !WOW

  • on October 5, 2012, 7:15 GMT

    Mr. Wright Thompson - The friend is 'Jawa' (He's a Jayawardana too hence the nick name) not 'Java' :-)

  • shamsh.tabrij on October 5, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    Very well written Mr. Wright Thompson. Hats off to you both Mahela & Sanga.

  • on October 5, 2012, 6:43 GMT

    Wonderful article! Really love the way he has presented the facts. Salute to both MJ and Sanga. You make all of us proud!

  • on October 5, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    Fantastic write up..... It doesn't get much better than this... So well written, great characters and a superb story....and the beauty of it is that it is a TRUE story... Well done Wright Thompson!

  • on October 5, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    Hats off sir! much respect to you for an amazing piece of art!

  • on October 5, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    One of the best articles I have read in My life.It took time.But not boring at all .amasing skills of writing

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    Amazing article.It absolutly facinating to see how Wright Thomson has understood the real life in Sri Lanka.Best article ever read in CRICINFO.Some tears which came to my eyes will witness how much a proud Sri Lankan am I.

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:35 GMT

    Brilliant article. One of the bust, Good Job!

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    Simply, thank you so much for writing this article......................

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:14 GMT

    Very interesting article and only thing missing for both of them is a WORLD CUP and this will be the movement of their lives if Sri Lanka win the T20 World Cup in Colombo on Sunday....

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:11 GMT

    Great Read - AAA+ Inciteful but yet conforms to what all of us have thought for years. Keep up the good work Mr.Write

  • on October 5, 2012, 4:08 GMT

    Wow! Although I already knew what Wright Thompson has written but this was an amazing presentation of facts. Hats off to the writer!

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:58 GMT

    one of the best if not the best article i read in cricinfo. hats off to Mr. Wright for publishing something awesome like this.....

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    Thanks for the article. Absolutely brilliant.

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:54 GMT

    very touching article! knew most of the facts but when it was all put together in this manner it was very touching indeed.

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:38 GMT

    Great article, Though little long than a normal cricinfo article, was enthralling reading right through out. Great work Wright Thompson..

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    Something beyond the game of the cricket... simply Mayya and Sanga True Legends.. Hats off to the writer :), Best Article i ever read in crickinfo :)

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:28 GMT

    I can't believe I've read every word of this. Great article. And really proud to be a Sri Lankan.

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    I think this is the best out of all articles.It took my breath out for a moment, wonderful !!!

  • on October 5, 2012, 3:18 GMT

    One heck of an Article.. Brilliant

  • on October 5, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Just breath taking article.It was a emotional one,hope Sri Lanka wins the WC this year.

  • PadMarley on October 5, 2012, 2:28 GMT

    I know some of the good old partnerships didnt have opportuniites as these two did in all three formatts of the game. But undoubtedly , this is the finest combination in modern cricket if you consider all three formats. They have a the best test and T20 partnership records... I'm sure though have not checked one-day records they have few under their names,..... the finest and the most stylish batting partners ever!!! top it up if you can!!

  • on October 5, 2012, 2:17 GMT

    excellent article !!! very informative . we love our cricketing heroes !!!!!

  • JB-HI-FI on October 5, 2012, 1:52 GMT

    Simply amazing... good one Wright Thompson...

  • challagalla on October 5, 2012, 1:49 GMT

    Lovely article. Had a lump in my throat reading it. Tthey remind me so much of Dravid and Laxman and Sri Lanka, nay world cricket will miss them, when they retire. I watched the Sanga speech on youtube and it was excellant. For a country to put the trauma of civil war and the horrific lahore bus attack and support Pakistan and to a lesser extant India whole heartedly is remarkable. Whising Sri Lankan cricket team all the best in the final. The Sri Lankan - Pakistan match yesterday was the best of the tournament and hoping we get another closely faught match in the final .

  • on October 5, 2012, 0:38 GMT

    good job Wright Thompson... its breathtaking!

  • on October 5, 2012, 0:17 GMT

    Honestly one of the best articles I've ever read...an eye opener...

  • on October 5, 2012, 0:02 GMT

    Great article, bit long but interesting!!

  • tmg86 on October 4, 2012, 23:15 GMT

    What an article, these guys are proper legends of the game, Greats on and off the field. I am sure the other members of the team must have done a lot of good things which we don't get to hear about. MJ and Sanga are great role models not only for their team mates but for the entire island.

    Watched an interview of Sanga earlier and he mentioned that since Marvan Atapattu took over as captain they set a side all the man of the match and other rewards all the players received and gave these to people in need. So this must have been going on for over 7-8 years and no one outside the team even knew until now, this alone goes to show the spirit of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team. If we could only have politicians like this running our countries.

    A very Proud Sri Lankan

  • saijayanth89 on October 4, 2012, 22:38 GMT

    Mahela n Sanga are two outstanding batsmen. I enjoy seeing Mahela bat, especially. So I love watching him score runs even if it's against my team India(hoping India wins). Now, this article is a complete different dimension of this Classy player. It's a different thing that I know some of the facts already but when put together and portrayed into an individual's persona, its a real moment of awe. Salute you Legend !! Expecting a Mahela Special in the finals and an SL win subsequently(No India in finals :P )

  • TopPlot on October 4, 2012, 22:38 GMT

    I read this article in full, which is after a long time this long and i didnt find it boring. Mr. Wright, its good work.

  • St.John on October 4, 2012, 22:12 GMT

    Well written and well researched article.One of the best I have read in Cricinfo. Brings back the horrror of the Bus attack in Pakistan, the terrible civil war in SL, and the love that can exist between couples and within families /good friends. Maybe cricket can heal the wounds of violence and tragedy for both Tamils and Singhalese and bring about a lasting peace to this otherwise beautiful Island. A song to sing in the Elysium fields..

  • on October 4, 2012, 21:49 GMT

    That is the most amazing thing I have read in a long while. I really need to see that picture.

  • on October 4, 2012, 21:44 GMT

    Thanks for the Article, it was nice reading it!

  • on October 4, 2012, 21:38 GMT

    I think this is possibly the best article I've ever read on Cricinfo, and there have been some very good ones. I already had a great deal of respect for both MJ and Sanga, as cricketers and as people, but it's gone up yet higher after reading this.

  • play_fair on October 4, 2012, 21:29 GMT

    Excellent article. Great work Wright Thompson!!! Explains the real life of real cricking legends and set an example for cricketers who think they are larger than life. It's these simple yet real human features makeup great cricketers not only the talent. This is the very reason why they have fans all over the world not only in the tiny nation of Sri Lanka. Proud to be a witness of their greatness…

  • Rainmaker001 on October 4, 2012, 21:07 GMT

    Absolutely brilliant , well written article!!

  • LALITHKURUWITA on October 4, 2012, 21:01 GMT

    What a wonderful article this is. What a wonderful match we witness!!! Both teams played very well and favouism changed at least 20 times during the match. That is why it is one of the mest semifinals. Well done PAK boys and SL sould win this WC if they can perform like this. Mahela could be the best captain in this tounament.

  • SanSL5 on October 4, 2012, 20:48 GMT

    WOW! this is one of the best articles i've ever read..superb stuff by Wright Thompson...hats of to you sir! thank you for showing us that he's one of the greats not only on the pitch, but everywhere else as well!

  • Shreyans.B on October 4, 2012, 20:40 GMT

    A beautiful article. Couldn't have been written any better. covering all aspects of a popular cricketers life moments and important moments that.

  • Tweety20 on October 4, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    A very moving and inspiring article about our cricketing hero. Our nation needs more patriotic cricketers like this. He is really a role model to any upcoming young cricketer. Srilanka cricket has a bright future with gentlemen like him at the helm. We are proud of u.U r a real LION.....

  • MysticMan on October 4, 2012, 20:34 GMT

    One of the best articles I have ever read! Keep it up Wright!

  • on October 4, 2012, 20:28 GMT

    Best article i've read on Cric info. Moving, powerful, very very good.

  • SanSL5 on October 4, 2012, 20:28 GMT

    The first part of this article gave me the chills.

  • seeAje on October 4, 2012, 20:13 GMT

    What fabulous article!!! hats off to Wright Thompson for this masterpiece article! I'm not much of a person who likes to read long articles but i nailed this from the scratch. i think all the true cricket fans should read this wonderful inspirational article about two most generous classy gentlemen cricketers in the modern cricket world - Mahela n Sanga. As you can see its not about just playing the game its about decency, respect and honesty too.. This really inspired me so I'm sure these little stories of two most wonderful cricketers will shine up many lives of young cricket talents all around the world by teaching them how to play cricket while being a true gentlemen. Again top hat work from the writer Mr. Thompson. I wish if i could have a chat with you about the way you see such different scopes of the cricket. its really great! hope you will do some more great stuff like this.

  • amithkumar on October 4, 2012, 20:07 GMT

    Truly moving.. Wonder what SRT or other indian cricketers would've done in those situations!!! MJ is one of my favourite sportsmen.. A true gentleman

  • Kays789 on October 4, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    Phenomenal! Outstanding! Remarkable! An extraordinary piece of writing about a man that has transcended all definitions of the word hero, a gifted cricketer that has achieved for his battered country more than most with nothing but sheer heart and determination. Along with his friend in sanga, SL will count their lucky stars for generations to come for the unparalleled joy and happiness these two have bestowed on their nation. Already an immortal in the annals of sri lankan cricketing history, mahela would forever be loved and remembered, not for the scarcely believable talent and grace as a batsman, nor the many individual exploits on the cricketing field that have redefined the art of classical batsmanship, nor even as the most astute leader his nation has ever produced, but just for being mahela... a singular beacon of hope and innocent joy that even his most articulate friend Kumar would not find the words to describe.

  • johnathonjosephs on October 4, 2012, 19:58 GMT

    One of the best articles I have read on cricinfo. Very emotional and love how you inocrporated the Pakistan attack and the Sri Lankan Civili War in it. Without a doubt the contry that needs this world cup win the most rigth now are the sri lankans but given their recent record in finals, I'd have to say the odds are against them> hope they win and hope their country can unit under one banner: both the tamils and the sinhalese

  • Cannuck on October 4, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    Simply Brilliant!!! These are things we already know of these two class acts, but reading it from your point of view makes us feel so bloody lucky to have them represent our country!!! Thanks Wright Thompson!

  • BroccoliPower on October 4, 2012, 19:53 GMT

    wow just wow! Now Cricinfo can take a few hints from this article as to what constitutes as a great article! Thank you.

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    Beautiful article! Sanga and Mahela are really heroes for Sri Lanka! This time, they both deserve to win the World T20 Cup! Thank you for this article, got to know so many things about both of them!

  • rajithwijepura on October 4, 2012, 19:45 GMT

    Wright Thompson, Really a complete article sir. I was almost in tears at the end of the article. I don't know how you made this without being a Srilankan. Thank you very much sir.

  • VithuranSri on October 4, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    Wright Thompson, I salute you sir! this is an article which i will remember for a lifetime. I have always been a big fan of mahela's batting and captaincy but now ill look @ him as a inspirational humanbeing. Thanks Mahela, Kumar and Wright Thompson. I am from Sri Lanka too and cricket for us is and will be in our blood.

  • Black_Rider on October 4, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    Tears came off from my eyes....Hats Off to My Skipper.....

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    Simply one of the best articles I have ever read. Gave me goosebumps reading some of the stuff written. Beautiful ,

  • ScoreField on October 4, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    What a piece of gem............

  • VforVendetta on October 4, 2012, 19:22 GMT

    A simply gorgeous article!! =)

  • ramz_01 on October 4, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    one of best evr articles I evr read wow wt a nice one.

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    hats off to hafeez who graciously accepted the defeat unlike dhoni!!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    hats off to hafeez who graciously accepted the defeat unlike dhoni!!

  • ramz_01 on October 4, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    one of best evr articles I evr read wow wt a nice one.

  • VforVendetta on October 4, 2012, 19:22 GMT

    A simply gorgeous article!! =)

  • ScoreField on October 4, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    What a piece of gem............

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    Simply one of the best articles I have ever read. Gave me goosebumps reading some of the stuff written. Beautiful ,

  • Black_Rider on October 4, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    Tears came off from my eyes....Hats Off to My Skipper.....

  • VithuranSri on October 4, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    Wright Thompson, I salute you sir! this is an article which i will remember for a lifetime. I have always been a big fan of mahela's batting and captaincy but now ill look @ him as a inspirational humanbeing. Thanks Mahela, Kumar and Wright Thompson. I am from Sri Lanka too and cricket for us is and will be in our blood.

  • rajithwijepura on October 4, 2012, 19:45 GMT

    Wright Thompson, Really a complete article sir. I was almost in tears at the end of the article. I don't know how you made this without being a Srilankan. Thank you very much sir.

  • on October 4, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    Beautiful article! Sanga and Mahela are really heroes for Sri Lanka! This time, they both deserve to win the World T20 Cup! Thank you for this article, got to know so many things about both of them!

  • BroccoliPower on October 4, 2012, 19:53 GMT

    wow just wow! Now Cricinfo can take a few hints from this article as to what constitutes as a great article! Thank you.