Jayawardene's field of glory
An artist can spend a satisfying lifetime expanding personal themes and deepening their resonance. Mahela Jayawardene has managed to absorb a number of influences, from his fellow Buddhist-school-educated Asanka Gurusinha to Aravinda de Silva and forge a style of his own, but nothing has defined him more than his exploits at the Sinhalese Sports Club. Larry Bird always brought his A-game to the old Boston Gardens, Mariano Rivera was known to turn on the heat at Yankee Stadium, Graham Gooch made 2015 runs in 21 visits to Lord's, and Brian Lara was king of St John's. But no-one in the history of Test cricket has scored more runs at one ground than Jayawardene at the SSC, and he has now equalled Don Bradman's record of nine centuries at one venue.
"It was very clear but I wasn't really thinking about all that," Jayawardene said after the day's play. "It is a very friendly venue for me as I've been playing almost 12 years of first-class cricket here." Like the venue, Jayawardene's innings was unobtrusive and starkly simple. There were fine hundreds from Malinda Warnapura and Thilan Samaraweera, but Kumar Sangakkara's failure had put immense pressure on the captain when he came out to bat.
India's plan was not allow him to drive to the off, but instead of cramping Jayawardene, Ishant Sharma offered width and was tapped backward of point for consecutive boundaries. The cut is not a weapon Jayawardene unfurls early, but this was the early impetus needed. Plenty of time had been lost and Jayawardene wanted to maintain the advantage of batting first. When he pulled Zaheer Khan he ensured to roll the wrists, minimising the risk while taking the opportunity to score.
India's spinners denied Jayawardene the drive and he slowed down after easing to 39 from 45 balls. But the more he batted, the more he settled. Jayawardene is not a particularly tall man, has a simple stance, and there is minimal fuss as the ball is delivered. Bat comes down in a simple manner, not in the typical second-slip arc. He is very sure of his footwork, critically. All this set him up to play within his limits, which unlike some Indian greats and some fellow Sri Lankans before him, works to his advantage. Especially when playing at home on slow and low pitches.
Jayawardene's assessment was the track was "very good for batting" and that it was all about application. This is a trait he has made his own. The ball did a little post lunch as grey clouds passed overhead. Zaheer beat Jayawardene twice in an over - one a late-deviating pearl that deserved a wicket - shortly after centurion Warnapura was dismissed. Zaheer bowled well in that spell but Jayawardene proved he could handle anything coming his way. He chose to trust his game. If a delivery surprised him, he would walk a few paces away towards leg and puff a few times. That was his recoil, and then it was back to defending and judging and on-driving.
He is not dissimilar to Mike Atherton or Rahul Dravid in being stubborn and single-minded; the foundation of his game is a solid technique. Like many of the modern era giants nothing seems to fluster Jayawardene. His innings was not flawless - Dinesh Karthik failed to hold on to chances off Anil Kumble when he was on 55 and 93. "If you get settled in it's quite easy to graft so I feel very lucky," he said. "A couple chances went dropping but I'll take that."
But surely four hundreds in a row at the SSC couldn't be luck? "I've been batting well, yes" came the modest reply. "When the others are doing well it makes it easy on us [seniors] and we need to see how far we can improve as a team."
Easy it did indeed seem, verging on the remorseless. Jayawardene is a workmanlike batsman blessed with extreme skills of concentration and that proved his biggest asset here. In his third Test against India at the SSC in 1999, Jayawardene turned a hundred into his first double, batting 677 minutes and scoring half of Sri Lanka's total. In 2004, his 237 against South Africa in Galle lasted 563 minutes. During his epic 374 against the same team at the SSC two summers ago, he batted 752 minutes. His 119 at Lord's, indeed his finest innings overseas, took 366 minutes. England looked on for 578 minutes at the SSC and 610 minutes at Galle last winter as Jayawardene racked up big hundreds. It was India's turn to suffer today.
Looking back, Jayawardene's hundred at the SSC was almost as inevitable as gravity and breathing. Whenever he walks to the crease here [where he now averages 81.40] it seems he's going to grind the opposition into the dust. His last four innings here have yielded hundreds, all received with a mere raise of the bat, but today he allowed himself a rare moment of exultation when he equalled the Don's MCG record.
A full delivery outside leg stump provided an opportunity on 97, and after he missed out he swung his bat in frustration. A scampered single to mid-on took him to his 23rd Test century - the first time someone has made four in consecutive innings at one venue - and as he hurried past Kumble, Jayawardene allowed himself a pump of the fist. It was nowhere near his emphatic celebrations after a stand-alone century in Hobart last November, but the emotion was palpable. Maybe it was his way of paying tribute to the club where he had cut his teeth.
It was a disciplined hundred, shorn of risks and flashy shots, and it efficiently paved the way for Sri Lanka's dominance. Jayawardene's hundreds are not always ones that flock to mind but 11 have come in victories, five when he has captained. Time till tell whether his latest hundred will result in a victory, but tonight when he sits back and puts his feet up, Jayawardene, 31 and at the pinnacle of his career, can be proud of the resolve that has served as his needle for each of his 22 Tests as captain. So can the SSC.
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo