A century with a difference
Cricket followers around the world and at home have witnessed the number of centuries Sanath Jayasuriya has scored in Test cricket. He has one triple and two double-centuries to add to 11 others, but on Tuesday at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium against Bangladesh, he will celebrate a century of a different kind. Jayasuriya, who is now 36, will become the first Sri Lankan cricketer to play 100 Test matches, 24 years after the nation was granted Test status.
For the holder of virtually every Sri Lankan batting record, this is just another feather in his cap after a long and illustrious career. To the disbelief of some, he had admitted that what kept him going for so long was the fear of being dropped from the team. He said that whenever he had a string of failures, the fear of the chop made him work harder at his game. "You've got to have that kind of fear in you if you want to succeed at this level," he said. "Otherwise you cannot come this far."
It all began against New Zealand at Hamilton in 1991. He batted at No. 6, a position that did not guarantee him a permanent place in the team. It was not until five years later when he was promoted to open the batting against Australia at Adelaide that he made his place secure with contributions of 48 and 112, his maiden Test hundred.
"That I would say was the turning point of my career," said Jayasuriya. "There were a few injuries in the team and I was asked to open. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. When I began my Test career I never thought I come this far. Initially, it was very difficult to get into the side. I had to work really hard for my Test place."
At an age when most international cricketers start thinking of retirement, the Jayasuriya juggernaut is still strong enough to carry on for a few more years. "I take it one series at a time," he said. "When you come to this level of your career, you have to be physically fit to carry on. I have been able to play for so long for my country because every time I go out I always tried to give my 100% to the team.
"Whenever I get a start, I always want to get a big hundred. My theory is that if you get set you must go and score a hundred for the team. As an opener,it is not easy to perform the way I bat. I have to work really hard to retain the position for so long."
Jayasuriya admitted that the challenge had intensified with time. "When you have been playing as long as I have, obviously the opposition gets to know your strengths and weaknesses. You will have to work twice as hard to overcome those weaknesses.
"If your fitness level are high,you can bat for longer periods of time. Mentally, you can be very strong but you will have to work on your physical fitness. I have gone through lean patches in my career. The main thing is that you have to be mentally really tough and focused on the game to come out of those situations."
Jayasuriya said that he owed a lot to former coach Dav Whatmore and former physio Alex Kontouri for bringing a sense of professionalism into practice and training. "I am grateful to those two for the good physical shape I am today. We really worked hard on our physical training and on our batting department. All the coaches from Dav downwards to Tom [Moody] have motivated us.
Sidath Wettimuny, the former Sri Lankan opening batsman is one of the few people Jayasuriya turns to for advice. "Sidath has always told me to go out and enjoy my cricket," he said. "He said as long as I enjoyed my game I would perform." What keeps Jayasuriya motivated even at the age of 36 is his love for the game. "I love the game so much, that's what keeps me going. I started playing cricket when I was nine years old and I never distracted myself from it."
For a cricketer who keeps himself physically fit, Jayasuriya strangely did not participate in any other sport. He is grateful to his parents, who have supported him right throughout his career, and Sandra, his wife, who has tolerated the days he has been away from home due to cricket commitments. "I am very proud to become the first Sri Lankan to play in 100 Tests," he said. "I worked really hard to come to that position. If you want to remain in the Test team you will have to work extra hard."
His advice to the younger lot is simple: "You need to put in a lot of sacrifice and work very hard at your game. At practices, you need to put 100% effort all the time. Even on non-practice days, you need to work on your game. When you get the opportunity you should always grab it. If you focus on your natural game, success will come with it."
A former captain who relinquished his post to concentrate on his cricket, Jayasuriya said he saw a bright future for Sri Lanka with a lot of youngsters around who have been performing well. "To become good players they will need to play for a little more time," he said. "When we came into the side we never had A tours. The present day cricketers are very lucky to have so many A tours going. I played in only one series in Pakistan with the Sri Lanka B side."
He's come a long way since then, this modest man from Matara. And tomorrow, he has the opportunity to celebrate a special landmark with another extraordinary innings. Only five batsmen have scored centuries in their 100th Test, but given Jayasuriya's sense of the big occasion, you would never count him out.