'Two nineties are disappointing, I'll take the runs' - Jayawardene
Mahela Jayawardene's success at the SSC has become a creature of habit. This is, after all, a man who has averaged 79. 58 with 2467 runs in his 22 Tests at the venue. When he missed a century in the first innings by eight runs, there was an air of inevitability that Jayawardene would get there in the second innings, seeing as Sri Lanka would definitely try and bat New Zealand out of this Test.
Instead, Jayawardene put himself into the record books for a reason that left him bittersweet at the end of the day. Falling in the nineties again, and to the same bowler (Iain O'Brien) and with a similar shot, Jayawardene become just the fourth player - and first Asian - to make two nineties in a Test.
"I have always wanted to put effort into spending time at the crease and at the end of the day, while two nineties are disappointing, I'll take the runs," Jayawardene said. "The first innings was more disappointing, though. If we had gone through and got a big score then probably we would have been in a much better situation."
Surely you jest, Mahela? The way New Zealand have batted all tour, Sri Lanka would have surely been comfortable with a first-innings score of 416. When he walked out in the second innings, it was with a determined stride and from the start you sensed he was checking in for a while. This is a batsman who, once settled, is unlikely to get out against such bowling and in such conditions.
To the spinners, on a wearing track, Jayawardene's preferred shots were off the back foot, going right back to hit the ball on top of the bounce either behind point or to square leg. He played several such shots off Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel. Against the seamers, there were wristy flicks and delicate dabs and copybook cover-drives. Until he poked at one from Iain O'Brien on 96, Jayawardene had batted with faultless assurance.
"Whenever I go out it is to do well. Keeping consistency is something I've thrived on," he said. "I wanted to get a hundred in the second innings but I got a peach of a delivery. You can't always help it."
Jayawardene has been the center of Sri Lanka's batting archipelago since the retirements of Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, and has consistently proven himself a batsman with the temperament and the strokes for big scores. Since giving up the captaincy, Jayawardene said his approach had not changed. "I've always said I've taken captaincy and batting separately. My contribution is important but right now I don't have captaincy responsibility. I am 32 and hopefully I have three or four years of my best time where I learn a lot and push myself harder."
Jayawardene's efforts have put Sri Lanka into a winning position and its now just about wrapping things up. If Jayawardene's role with the bat numbed New Zealand into submission, then the left-arm spinner Rangana Herath's four wickets had the tourists puzzled. Herath, after being dropped for Ajantha Mendis in Galle, has continued his rich vein of form with seven wickets so far in the Test. Four came today in a spell in which Herath bowled better than Test cricket's highest wicket-taker at the other end.
"We've invested in Rangana for some time. He's been our second best spinner for quite some time now before Ajantha came into the scene," Jayawardene said. "He's been around for a while and we've had belief in him. Now he's put his hand up and said 'I'm capable of handling that No. 1 spot once Murali leaves'. With the experience Rangana has, he will probably be our best spinner for some time."
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo