Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Kandy, 3rd day December 3, 2007

The modest masterblaster calls time



'With forearms like pistons, he has bullied England's bowlers almost since the dawn of modern batsmanship' © Getty Images

It was an exit that brought to mind Mike Atherton's sheepish departure at The Oval in 2001. No-one knew for sure that this was his final innings in Test cricket, but the way Sanath Jayasuriya shyly saluted his standing ovation was telling in the extreme.

As he reached the rope after a pugnacious 78, he was met with a pat on the shoulder and a semi-embrace by the incoming batsman, Kumar Sangakkara, before Sri Lanka's uber-fan, Percy Abeysekera, chaperoned him to the pavilion steps beneath a giant national flag. The tongues had been set a-wagging and moments after the close came the confirmation we'd been expecting.

"This is the right time to retire," Jayasuriya confirmed. He had bowed out on this ground once before, against Pakistan in April 2006, when a nasty broken finger quite literally forced his hand. Though he reneged on that decision - with some success - in England later that year, this time, at the age of 38, there will be no coming back "There are some young guys coming up, and I wanted to go while on top," he said. "Life without cricket will be tough, but I will still be playing one-day cricket and contributing to the team."

On a day dominated by Muttiah Muralitharan, Jayasuriya signed off with a performance as full of fireworks as the hills around the ground that saluted his team-mate's world record. He fell short of his farewell century, but then Jayasuriya - possibly uniquely among specialist batsmen - has never relied on hundreds to get his point across. With forearms like pistons, he has bullied England's bowlers almost since the dawn of modern batsmanship. Spanking cameos have been his calling card, and rarely have they gone unnoticed.

The statistics tell you that Jayasuriya has been a fading force in Test match cricket - this was only his second half-century in 16 Tests stretching back to November 2004. The mind's eye tells you he was as dangerous in his final dig as he had been in his pomp, more than a decade ago, at the 1996 World Cup. James Anderson certainly won't forget the fury of his blade in a hurry - his fourth over was thrashed for six consecutive fours, only the third occasion that has been achieved in the history of Test cricket.



'He was met with a pat on the shoulder and a semi-embrace by the incoming batsman, Kumar Sangakkara, before Sri Lanka's uber-fan, Percy Abeysekera, chaperoned him to the pavilion steps beneath a giant national flag' © AFP

Sure, there was a chance in among those blows, as Ian Bell had his hair parted by a sizzling edge through the slips, but that is Jayasuriya's game through and through. No-one has ever hit on the up with such alacrity - who else could make a six over point their staple scoring shot? It's part of the reason why his game has never been so suited to Tests, for chances are obligatory when he's at the crease. It's also the reason why he will be missed now that he's gone. He made things happen. Constantly.

England, as is so often the case, have been the victims of his most devastating assaults. His ballistic 82 from 44 balls in the quarter-final against England transformed the parameters of one-day cricket - and set his side on course for their greatest triumph. His double-century at The Oval two years later was the performance that turned the Test on its head and paved the way for Murali's subsequent 16-wicket masterclass. And at Colombo three years ago, Jayasuriya flogged an exhausted attack for a quickfire 85, a cameo that was once again forgotten in the final reckoning as England tumbled to their third-heaviest defeat in history.

Today he finally called it quits. Michael Vandort will have a new partner at Kandy, most probably Upul Tharanga, who has himself been in the runs against England on this tour already. But somehow you know that the threat will not be the same when the teams line up at the SSC next week. As Murali marches on to ever greater heights, a fellow Sri Lankan legend leaves quietly by the side exit. It's arguably his quietest performance in a raucous career.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo