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Sri Lanka dug themselves a hole in Galle but had their captain to thank for digging them out of it again
March 26, 2012
Sri Lanka have been playing one-day cricket for the last three months and it showed on the opening day in Galle. With one notable exception. Mahela Jayawardene has the ability to make batting effortless even when others around him are digging a hole and he single-handedly defied the England attack to ensure Sri Lanka had enough runs on the board to be firmly in the contest.
To say that Jayawardene has jumped at the chance to captain Sri Lanka again, after replacing Tillakaratne Dilshan, is stretching his enthusiasm for the job. "It's a new challenge for me and I'm enjoying it at the moment," he said the day before the Test started. The captaincy, though, does appear to inspire his batting as he averages more than 70 as as leader - not that his overall mark of 51.14 is shabby. Perhaps the more remarkable statistic is his 13 hundreds from 29 Tests as captain, a phenomenal conversion rate of nearly one every other match.
And this one, his 30th overall and seventh against England, can go down as one of his best partly because, unlike many of his team-mates, he has seamlessly switched from one-day cricket to Test mode. He was at the crease in the third over after James Anderson struck twice in two balls and set the tone by calmly playing out the hat-trick delivery. There is not much that gets Jayawardene flustered. His first scoring shot was a cut behind point and three deliveries later he whipped another boundary off his pads to send ominous warnings to England.
"Everyone is very aware what a special innings it was," Graham Ford, the Sri Lanka coach, said. "It's very tough to go in in that situation on a pitch that doesn't look to be that easy to score freely on. When you are under pressure you need to absorb and it was a fine example of that. Gradually he fought into the innings then put the pressure back on the opposition."
Not that Jayawardene entirely shelved one-day mode. His play of Graeme Swann showed all the hallmarks of the limited-overs game as he milked the offspinner, having greeted him third ball with a slog-sweep for six, to the extent that he took 59 runs off the 68 balls Swann delivered to him.
"He's been around the game for such a long time and everyone knows what a great cricketing brain he's got," Ford said. "That was a decision to try and disrupt things, he was battling like crazy to get us out of a hole and one of the ways to do that was to disrupt the bowlers and he's a good enough player to carry it out."
The importance of his wicket was shown when Andrew Strauss used up England's final review - the first having been wasted in the opening over the match - for an lbw shout by Swann during the first session. It was perhaps worth a gamble with two in the bank, but England were desperate to remove Jayawardene.
He was dropped on 90, when he chipped a slower ball back at Anderson, and next ball swung a good-length delivery over midwicket. Yet even that was grace mixed with power. The innings, already a gem, became a masterclass as he farmed the strike with the lower-order for company. The eighth and ninth wickets have so far added 100 runs with Rangana Herath and Chanaka Welegedera contributing 15 between them.
"It's one of the better Test innings I've seen, considering no one else got much above 20," Anderson said. "He had the knack of knowing when to go for a big shot and when to grind it out a bit."
Last year when Australia played at Galle the pitch received an ICC warning for excessive early turn. Yet Jayawardene still managed to score 105 in the second innings. By comparison, this first-day pitch will have felt like a featherbed. That's not the reality, however. This surface is far better than the one produced last August - Galle could not afford another dodgy strip - but there was still enough turn to suggest spin will play a key role as the match develops.
One delivery, in particular, from Swann leapt from a good length and took Jayawardene's glove only to loop just out of the fingertips of a diving Anderson running back at slip. It was the exception rather the norm but, as often in Sri Lanka, batting last won't be easy. Yet the ease with which Jayawardene batted as shadows lengthened also showed that all is required is a bit of application.
It should come as no surprise that Jayawardene has made runs at Galle. When he collected a boundary off Monty Panesar to move to 69 he reached 2000 runs on the ground and became the first batsman to cross that landmark at two venues, the other being the SSC in Colombo. After being reminded of what Jayawardene can produce England will be grateful that the second Test is at least being staged at the P Sara Oval where he averages a positively human 41.
Edited by David Hopps
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