Jayawardene retires from Test cricket August 18, 2014

The people's man bids them adieu

To the people who have loved him, Mahela Jayawardene has never seemed like an A-lister. Almost 20 years after he became a celebrity, he has remained, unmistakeably, a man of the people
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When Mahela Jayawardene was a teenager, the locals in towns he played in would sometimes shut up shop, and flock to the ground to watch him play. In the early years he had not figured out he was the reason the crowds had swelled. Eventually the truth dawned upon him.

As he farewelled Test cricket, the thousands who had come to the SSC to see him off were allowed on to the ground, to form a giant huddle around their hero. There were warm embraces with his proud, emotional parents, his wife and daughter, his team-mates, and one quiet moment with his great partner-in-crime, Kumar Sangakkara. But on the day where he was the most wanted man in town, he still looked up every few moments to give his crowds a joyful wave.

He has been a world-class cricketer, admired the world over, mixing with presidents, meeting with royalty, and carousing with the wealthy and well-known. But to the people who have loved him at home he has never seemed like an A-lister. Almost 20 years after became a celebrity, Jayawardene has remained, unmistakeably, a man of the people.

Perhaps he has enjoyed those interactions most of all. He has posed for tens of thousands of pictures, signed countless caps, bats, notebooks and photographs. Yet instead of being ground down by the hubbub, Jayawardene has been buoyed by the public's love and admiration. He never fails to respond when a fan quips with him, rarely forgets to flash that wide smile when someone shakes his hand.

On a charity walk last year, a boy of no more than nine had waited for Jayawardene to come past since 5 am, so Jayawardene met him warmly and walked with him for as long as the youngster could come. He has always had that magic about him: that air of approachability and an easy, affectionate way. In a northern town last October, a group of squirming kids milled around metres away, a little too shy to approach. So he went to them instead, dropping to his haunches to flash that grin, eye-to-eye.

"I have played with a lot of pride and passion, and that's the same passion that the fans have, and the same passion that the entire nation has. It's quite easy to play for a country like that."
Mahela Jayawardene

"Playing for Sri Lanka is such a special thing because of the fans, and the way they support us," he said after stepping off the Test field for the final time. "I have played with a lot of pride and passion, and that's the same passion that the fans have, and the same passion that the entire nation has. It's quite easy to play for a country like that."

On Twitter, players from all around the world, from Kevin Pietersen to Adam Gilchrist to Harbhajan Singh, whom Jayawardene had scored many runs against, sent their tributes through. At the SSC, he had an unusually warm guard of honour when he came to bat for the last time. Even after having lost the series 2-0, Pakistan's players were joking with him on the boundary.

Jayawardene has played the game with passion and intensity, but he has always been about the people within and around the game as well. Cricketers across the spectrum, from the freakishly talented to the most working-class, claim he is the best captain they have played under. He has ruffled plenty of feathers as well, but his public interactions reveal a little of why he is such a highly rated leader.

"When I look back at my time with the Sri Lanka team, those memories are beautiful to me," he said. "We always played with a lot of joy, and a lot of good things happened to me personally, because I became a Sri Lanka cricketer. I am very lucky I got to have a job that was also my passion. I appreciate every moment I had. It's a privilege to be in the Sri Lanka dressing room."

There will be days when Sri Lankan cricket will feel Jayawardene's absence. They may miss him if Sri Lanka crumble on one of the bone-dry pitches that were his specialty. Fans might want for a player whose innings they can happily watch for hours, on loop. Sangakkara might get bogged down, and yearn his old friend to reverse the pressure at the other end. Angelo Mathews will almost certainly miss his tactical advice on long, tough days in the field.

But Jayawardene is gone now, 149 Tests into his career, six catches short of the Test record, 0.16 below that vaunted average of 50. But at least his team can be happy they gave him this last occasion among the people whose days he had filled with joy, and who had given him joy in return.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cannuck on August 18, 2014, 14:49 GMT

    I am sure there will be arm chair statistic pundits who will always question his average in & out of SL. But for us he is a legend for more than numbers. Not only in cricket he is also an amazing human being people gravitated to as Andrew has written. Personally I have seen him interact with everyone, while playing golf around Colombo, kids & adults from near by poor homes would gather, & he would ask them about their school work, sports & other normal things as if he was a family friend. He would always make time for others, send a reply for a text immediately, which I am amazed at. Once when his wife was out of town, he got someone to bring us a lunch meal from a "bath kade" (regular road side shop) near his house, which he claimed was the best (not a 5 star restaurant). His wife and parents are equally great people, who keep him grounded. These are things people do not know, but NEED to know, now that he will be out of limelight. He is a legend for all of the above & much more!

  • Logic2014 on August 24, 2014, 7:17 GMT

    (Continued..) A true role model who had more substance than a hundred modern day marketing led 'facade brigades' who youngsters call heroes/legends/role models. Kudos to Mahela's parents, teachers & mother Nalanda for instilling real human values in him at a young age. All the best and good luck Mahela Aiya! You'll be remembered by us for who you really are and not because of your stats!

  • Logic2014 on August 24, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    I was several years junior to Mahela at Nalanda college and vividly remember him being a prolific run scorer at school level. But my fondest memory of him is when he came to our school sports meet (10/12yrs back) as the chief guest. He had to spend a good half a day or more in the scorching sun posing for photographs with kids, parents and chatting with teachers who had taught him when he was in school and I thought to myself why in the world would a cricketer with a busy schedule (I think he was the vice-captain then) would take the time to pose for pics or chat with unknown kids & parents even after the ceremony was over! Well that's who Mahela is….a true Sri Lankan who never forgot his roots, a person who is compassionate towards all others irrespective of race, caste or nationality. (Continued..)

  • fguy on August 19, 2014, 20:42 GMT

    the definition of a home track bully? one who avg's <32 outside Asia in tests (exception of England where avg is a staggering 35.8) & <33 in odi's overall. by those standards raina & SRJ are on their way to Greatest Of All Time status

  • Pathiyal on August 19, 2014, 9:19 GMT

    we all know the legend! but never knew the humble, lovable person in him! thanks for this article. hope to see more of him.

  • on August 19, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    A really good cricketer, one of the few gentlemen in gentleman's game in the game where people only look for gods and kings.

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    I very badly wanted to go to SCC during the last 3 days of the test match but due to work matters, I could not get my leave approved. But will surely be there on the 27th to see our LIONS taking on the Pakistanis. If work restrict me from going again, I will say bye bye work because I have requested this leave last month!

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    @ Cannuck: Well said mate. He was the most humble, down to earth Cricketer I have ever seen and met in person. (I haven't met Sanga yet, But Im sure he too is a down to earth cricketer) I still think Mahela should have continued to play until the end of 2015. But international cricket is a tiring sport and only Mahela would have known exactly when to call it quits. We will definitely miss him in tests. I hope the SL selectors will give Mahela the chance to open the innings with Dilly in ODIs. That is the best suited position for Mahela.

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    All the best Mahiya, You are a true legend on the ground. Off of it you are a true gentleman. I had the honor of serving you once when you visited where I work and I made a mistake while serving your order. I thought that was the end of my hotel career but you just simply said "not to worry". If you did complain that day, It would have definitely been the last day of my hotel life as I was a trainee back then. (2007 to be exact)

    Not many cricketers would have done that. I, WE will miss you in tests but you will entertain us in ODIs. ALL THE BEST MAHIYA....

    Dear Anji and Sri Lankan team, You guys sis it once for Sanga and Mahiya, Please do it again in 2015. Win the world cup to pay tribute to these 2 legends.

  • RoshJ on August 19, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    Sanga..the man of the world...; Maiya..the man of the people, humble, infectious and loving...I remember him taking some time off from his very brief honey-moon in Dubai to come over to a friend's place in UAE to handover medals to bunch of kids who played a friendly on the occasion of my friend's kids birthday...it was an amazing gesture..that is the sort of person he is, such a lovely, lovely human being...may you shine forever Maiya.. may the triple gem bless you!

  • Cannuck on August 18, 2014, 14:49 GMT

    I am sure there will be arm chair statistic pundits who will always question his average in & out of SL. But for us he is a legend for more than numbers. Not only in cricket he is also an amazing human being people gravitated to as Andrew has written. Personally I have seen him interact with everyone, while playing golf around Colombo, kids & adults from near by poor homes would gather, & he would ask them about their school work, sports & other normal things as if he was a family friend. He would always make time for others, send a reply for a text immediately, which I am amazed at. Once when his wife was out of town, he got someone to bring us a lunch meal from a "bath kade" (regular road side shop) near his house, which he claimed was the best (not a 5 star restaurant). His wife and parents are equally great people, who keep him grounded. These are things people do not know, but NEED to know, now that he will be out of limelight. He is a legend for all of the above & much more!

  • Logic2014 on August 24, 2014, 7:17 GMT

    (Continued..) A true role model who had more substance than a hundred modern day marketing led 'facade brigades' who youngsters call heroes/legends/role models. Kudos to Mahela's parents, teachers & mother Nalanda for instilling real human values in him at a young age. All the best and good luck Mahela Aiya! You'll be remembered by us for who you really are and not because of your stats!

  • Logic2014 on August 24, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    I was several years junior to Mahela at Nalanda college and vividly remember him being a prolific run scorer at school level. But my fondest memory of him is when he came to our school sports meet (10/12yrs back) as the chief guest. He had to spend a good half a day or more in the scorching sun posing for photographs with kids, parents and chatting with teachers who had taught him when he was in school and I thought to myself why in the world would a cricketer with a busy schedule (I think he was the vice-captain then) would take the time to pose for pics or chat with unknown kids & parents even after the ceremony was over! Well that's who Mahela is….a true Sri Lankan who never forgot his roots, a person who is compassionate towards all others irrespective of race, caste or nationality. (Continued..)

  • fguy on August 19, 2014, 20:42 GMT

    the definition of a home track bully? one who avg's <32 outside Asia in tests (exception of England where avg is a staggering 35.8) & <33 in odi's overall. by those standards raina & SRJ are on their way to Greatest Of All Time status

  • Pathiyal on August 19, 2014, 9:19 GMT

    we all know the legend! but never knew the humble, lovable person in him! thanks for this article. hope to see more of him.

  • on August 19, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    A really good cricketer, one of the few gentlemen in gentleman's game in the game where people only look for gods and kings.

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    I very badly wanted to go to SCC during the last 3 days of the test match but due to work matters, I could not get my leave approved. But will surely be there on the 27th to see our LIONS taking on the Pakistanis. If work restrict me from going again, I will say bye bye work because I have requested this leave last month!

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    @ Cannuck: Well said mate. He was the most humble, down to earth Cricketer I have ever seen and met in person. (I haven't met Sanga yet, But Im sure he too is a down to earth cricketer) I still think Mahela should have continued to play until the end of 2015. But international cricket is a tiring sport and only Mahela would have known exactly when to call it quits. We will definitely miss him in tests. I hope the SL selectors will give Mahela the chance to open the innings with Dilly in ODIs. That is the best suited position for Mahela.

  • THEBEAST7 on August 19, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    All the best Mahiya, You are a true legend on the ground. Off of it you are a true gentleman. I had the honor of serving you once when you visited where I work and I made a mistake while serving your order. I thought that was the end of my hotel career but you just simply said "not to worry". If you did complain that day, It would have definitely been the last day of my hotel life as I was a trainee back then. (2007 to be exact)

    Not many cricketers would have done that. I, WE will miss you in tests but you will entertain us in ODIs. ALL THE BEST MAHIYA....

    Dear Anji and Sri Lankan team, You guys sis it once for Sanga and Mahiya, Please do it again in 2015. Win the world cup to pay tribute to these 2 legends.

  • RoshJ on August 19, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    Sanga..the man of the world...; Maiya..the man of the people, humble, infectious and loving...I remember him taking some time off from his very brief honey-moon in Dubai to come over to a friend's place in UAE to handover medals to bunch of kids who played a friendly on the occasion of my friend's kids birthday...it was an amazing gesture..that is the sort of person he is, such a lovely, lovely human being...may you shine forever Maiya.. may the triple gem bless you!

  • katch47 on August 19, 2014, 5:27 GMT

    @Cannuck there are two such pundits I know of holding a show called modern masters which they claim to analyze player adaptability, temperament and impact and I always wonder why Mahela who is no short of above mentioned qualities not in that list. Because its stat based.

  • katch47 on August 19, 2014, 4:08 GMT

    Mahela, who is your successor? Is he Dinesh Chandimal? If so he must get some hiking practice cuz he has to climb mount Everest

  • cricfan_from_80s on August 19, 2014, 4:06 GMT

    Mahela is a real Champion cricketer who is humble human being. Good Luck to him!

  • on August 19, 2014, 3:39 GMT

    i missed him

  • sridoosra on August 19, 2014, 3:32 GMT

    Mahela best of the best.one of true legend in Sri lanka cricket. Best slip fielder world cricket and Sri lanka.Wish you all the best for your future...............!

  • on August 19, 2014, 3:17 GMT

    A great cricketer, great human being and exemplary gentleman on and off the field.There are thousands of charity works done without any publicity.It shows his class as a real human being.I have heard , one woman in a very rural village in our country cried after hearing his departure from test cricket.Finally reason was found , her husband was with cancer and Mahela donated 2million rupees for treatments.Nobody knows until it was revealed by that woman.Thats the reason why we love him more than the character of cricket person.I salute you Mahela.You have given a lot for your country.Best of luck for your future.

  • cricfan_from_80s on August 19, 2014, 3:17 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster: In the 90's Not only Srilankans cricket lovers around the world loved to watch Sachin's batting. I still can remember his 1st ODI 100 against Australia.Such a sweet feeling to hear the sound from his bat when the ball flies to long-on boundary which second only to Aravinda De Silva's bat.

    But late in his career he didn't timed his retirement properly. Hence it brought down his reputation and popularity and he lost the respect we all had for him.

  • SajithaD on August 19, 2014, 3:04 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster, I didn't targeted or insulted Sachin or the reasons he is praised a god by indians... I simply pointed the reason why there isn't a media hype around this player and why he didn't wanted it... Also the effect of that on the team and fans...

  • VinothSam on August 19, 2014, 3:01 GMT

    Missing Maiya's slip catches and his master class shots. We Sri Lankans love our players and the team as a family. After all it's a small country we can still see him on the street as always. Hats off machan.

  • Charindra on August 19, 2014, 2:50 GMT

    Mahela is more than the numbers and records. He was an artist and we will miss his elegant batting and leadership.

  • Cpt.Meanster on August 19, 2014, 2:08 GMT

    @SajithaD: Your entire comment is targeted towards Sachin Tendulkar. Why do you SL fans do this all the time ? Mahela is also loved by many Indians, including me. So let's keep it civil and respectful. Sachin was called a GOD by a billion Indians and with a good reason. Mahela may not have been called likewise but he was a terrific player nevertheless and someone even Sachin admired many times.

  • on August 19, 2014, 0:04 GMT

    Hats off to a true Sri Lankan legend...... may the youngsters learn from him.

  • Shamshad05 on August 18, 2014, 20:26 GMT

    He went gracefully with 149 Tests into his career, six catches short of the Test record, 0.16 below that vaunted average of 50. Truly great.

  • chinthak99 on August 18, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    great fun with cricketers at hotel.nice to cook for mahela in his last test.wow feeling great

  • on August 18, 2014, 19:41 GMT

    Mahela was the great player of the present time .We will all miss you. A very happy retirement. Wish you good luck.

  • SajithaD on August 18, 2014, 19:20 GMT

    There are some gods in cricket... Mahela is not a GOD, he never wanted to be, we never wanted him to be... A god can't be touched, can't be friendly, can't be emotional, cant be passionate, cant feel the love of people, cant be imitated, cant be a role model to children... A God can only be worshiped... Being worshiped, the only thing Mahela never wanted... When you see mahela in a road, if you smile to him, if you wave your hand to him he will smile back at you maybe stop and speak with you... Being the super star he is, he wanted to be normal person which made everybody believe themselves that they can be special as him... So why is he special in cricket? because he is a player who can beat gods and made the team and fans believe they can beat gods... Thats what made him a player who is much more than a God...

  • Zetta on August 18, 2014, 19:11 GMT

    Cricket ain't popular in Bulgaria, where I'm front, but I'm a big cricket fan. One of the reasons for that just quit Test cricket! It's a pity that I picket up that sport so late - there's no Mahela, Murali, Warne, Tendulkar, Laxman, Lee, McGrath, Kallis ect., anymore. All great players and entertainers from the resent era. I would pick Jayawardene in any playing XI of any team and in any format for the record.

  • on August 18, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    Great Cricketer,you will be in our memories forever!

  • nainil0683 on August 18, 2014, 18:49 GMT

    Absolute class. Legend. Best innings was the World Cup 2011 Final century. Unfortunate his effort did not win the cup for his team. Champion personified.

  • on August 18, 2014, 18:43 GMT

    An absolutely brilliant player, as tough a cricketer he was - there was a sense of humbleness and amazing amount of humility....

    they dont make players like him any more. it has been an absolute pleasure to watch him play.

    he has made srilankan cricket proud...

  • amilag on August 18, 2014, 18:42 GMT

    We will miss U sir! I always believed Mahela is the best batsman SL has produced above Sanga and Aravinda even stats shows otherwise. He is a pure class, treat to watch..oh that cover drives...we won't see it again..we really miss u...

  • on August 18, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    It has been a pleasure to watch Mahela batting. His strokes were meaningful and deliberate. Whenever he had a bad patch I knew he would come around and he did. I am glad he decided to retire when he is still at his peak. We will remember many of his innings here and abroad as classy. I am yet to see a batsman who an caress the ball as he does and especially when he plays the late cut so late. I wish him and his family very well.

  • CricketPissek on August 18, 2014, 17:37 GMT

    Cannuck hit the nail on the head. Mahela wasn't about the numbers. Maybe this is why he had no hesitation in retiring 1 short of 150 matches. He's the most organic player I've ever seen at that level, who for 17 years played with pure unadulterated JOY of cricket. I still have an old magazine from 1996 which had an article about this 18 year old Nalandian with a thick mono-brow earmarked for greatness :) he did not disappoint. #thankYouMahela

  • Kays789 on August 18, 2014, 17:10 GMT

    Farewell brother. It was an immense privilege watching you bat in tests and those memories will live on, long past your parting. You were always humble in both victory and defeat and remained a true role model through out your career and your legacy will be remembered with much fondness far more than the numbers and statistics. Thank you for all the good times and wish you and your family nothing but the best of everything for the rest of your life.

  • on August 18, 2014, 16:08 GMT

    Excellent career .. What a classy player

  • on August 18, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Will miss you badly in terms of spirit of the cricket !!

  • on August 18, 2014, 15:22 GMT

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mahela. He is not only a classy batsman, but pure class overall. A real gentleman. You will be missed. Thank you LEGEND. :'(

  • on August 18, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    I and my family had the privilege of meeting Mahela in couple of occasions we will cherish those memories.Good luck for your future endeavours.God bless.

  • cricchanel.com on August 18, 2014, 14:19 GMT

    We are unable to find words in dictionary to justice with his services. The whole team is very sad at this moment of his retiring. The best we can give to him we think, play well in this match and win it for Mahela," Angelo Mathews said. "A lot of memories we will have to miss. He is a real warrior even if he is playing a warm-up match, he'll still try to fight and win. That's his unbelievable character to me.

  • Capt.COOL on August 18, 2014, 13:59 GMT

    our children will not see them bat & field... like i had never seen Aravinada, Kaluwitharana bat.....like our elders said us stories about them and there will be stories to tell our children also of how they bat, how the rise when we need them, how they won our hearts of 17 years...... LEGENDS aren't born, they rise.......... Farewell Sir Mahela Jayawardane......

  • Senaratne77 on August 18, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    Farewell Mahela........and thanks for the memories! May the Triple gem bless you always!

  • Senaratne77 on August 18, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    Farewell Mahela........and thanks for the memories! May the Triple gem bless you always!

  • Capt.COOL on August 18, 2014, 13:59 GMT

    our children will not see them bat & field... like i had never seen Aravinada, Kaluwitharana bat.....like our elders said us stories about them and there will be stories to tell our children also of how they bat, how the rise when we need them, how they won our hearts of 17 years...... LEGENDS aren't born, they rise.......... Farewell Sir Mahela Jayawardane......

  • cricchanel.com on August 18, 2014, 14:19 GMT

    We are unable to find words in dictionary to justice with his services. The whole team is very sad at this moment of his retiring. The best we can give to him we think, play well in this match and win it for Mahela," Angelo Mathews said. "A lot of memories we will have to miss. He is a real warrior even if he is playing a warm-up match, he'll still try to fight and win. That's his unbelievable character to me.

  • on August 18, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    I and my family had the privilege of meeting Mahela in couple of occasions we will cherish those memories.Good luck for your future endeavours.God bless.

  • on August 18, 2014, 15:22 GMT

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mahela. He is not only a classy batsman, but pure class overall. A real gentleman. You will be missed. Thank you LEGEND. :'(

  • on August 18, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Will miss you badly in terms of spirit of the cricket !!

  • on August 18, 2014, 16:08 GMT

    Excellent career .. What a classy player

  • Kays789 on August 18, 2014, 17:10 GMT

    Farewell brother. It was an immense privilege watching you bat in tests and those memories will live on, long past your parting. You were always humble in both victory and defeat and remained a true role model through out your career and your legacy will be remembered with much fondness far more than the numbers and statistics. Thank you for all the good times and wish you and your family nothing but the best of everything for the rest of your life.

  • CricketPissek on August 18, 2014, 17:37 GMT

    Cannuck hit the nail on the head. Mahela wasn't about the numbers. Maybe this is why he had no hesitation in retiring 1 short of 150 matches. He's the most organic player I've ever seen at that level, who for 17 years played with pure unadulterated JOY of cricket. I still have an old magazine from 1996 which had an article about this 18 year old Nalandian with a thick mono-brow earmarked for greatness :) he did not disappoint. #thankYouMahela

  • on August 18, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    It has been a pleasure to watch Mahela batting. His strokes were meaningful and deliberate. Whenever he had a bad patch I knew he would come around and he did. I am glad he decided to retire when he is still at his peak. We will remember many of his innings here and abroad as classy. I am yet to see a batsman who an caress the ball as he does and especially when he plays the late cut so late. I wish him and his family very well.