Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, SSC, 3rd day August 16, 2014

A tense artist's final strive for perfection

Mahela Jayawardene has won matches off his bat, and thrilled crowds from around the world, but he has never been about the tidy, round numbers

This Test had been moved to the SSC to give Mahela Jayawardene a perfect farewell, but so far the celebrations have not been without their blemishes © AFP

When Mahela Jayawardene walked out for his final innings in Test cricket, Pakistan began to form their second guard of honour of the match. The first half of their gesture went off without a hitch. Two columns of roughly equal length were formed about two metres apart, in line with the corridor that leads out of the dressing rooms.

But as soon as Jayawardene walked past the two players, on either side, Pakistan began to close in around him. Saeed Ajmal made a lighthearted comment. Younis Khan quipped back and flung his arm around the batsman while both chuckled. Long before Jayawardene could pass through, the guard straight lines had collapsed into a group huddle, just like it had on day one.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan have been professional teams for years, but from the top eight sides, the amateur spirit still runs strongest in these two. It is just like Sri Lanka and Pakistan to give the same player two guards of honour in one match. It is just like Sri Lanka and Pakistan to do it wrong both times. Not that their fans would want it any other way.

This Test had been moved to the SSC to give Jayawardene a perfect farewell, but so far the celebrations have not been without their blemishes. The crowd filled out a little, while Jayawardene's stand with Kumar Sangakkara swelled, but there were vast empty spaces, in the stands and on the banks. It was a Saturday afternoon.

Those that had gathered to send Jayawardene off had their chants routinely drowned out by the music blaring from the stadium speakers. Hoardings, some transplanted from their previous haunts in Galle, had been installed around the ground's periphery, but some of those were not perfect either. "Couldn't have been streater," read one, showing Jayawardene driving in one-day kit. "Should go alone the ground," went another, with a picture of Jayawardene sweeping in Tests.

On Facebook, a Sri Lankan politician had criticised whoever had allowed the misspelled boards to be displayed, but maybe the man it had all been for would not have minded so much. Jayawardene delivered staggering highs in his career, but for all his hard runs, he has not been one to tango with perfection. He is loved at home for his efforts at Galle and Colombo. But he polarises opinion overseas, largely because of his lopsided home and away record.

No bowler has dismissed Jayawardene more than six times other than Saeed Ajmal, who has claimed his scalp on nine occasions, so when he took guard against the offspinner, he seemed tense. Jayawardene prodded outside off stump, failing to account for Ajmal's turn several times and misreading a doosra that narrowly passed the outside edge.

Some days every ball hits the middle of his blade, and all his strokes - however outrageous - all come off. But on Saturday, Jayawardene was forced to scrap for every run. Two balls that struck him on the pad raised big appeals. When he played an attacking stroke, there was often a fielder in his way.

Still, Jayawardene fought to improve his team's position in the match, and deliver at least some of what the crowd that had gathered for him had come for. The cover drive off Wahab Riaz that brought his first boundary was as gorgeous as any he has played. Tired of defending to Ajmal soon after, he got inside the line of a delivery pitching on middle, and swept it hard, just inches above an outstretched hand of short fine leg. The late cut that brought his next four, off Abdur Rehman, was again just out of reach of the fielder, at second slip this time. Far from his best touch, an attack he has not always prospered against, Jayawardene found a way to play his vintage strokes, all with that signature element of danger.

Eventually he grew bolder and produced the awesome moments that no good Jayawardene innings is without. The square drive off a Wahab away-swinger drew a gasp and applause from the crowd. The upper cut over the slips next ball brought a roar of appreciation. The best boundary was the last one he struck before stumps. Slinking down the pitch to Rehman, Jayawardene made room and lofted the ball over cover, with the turn.

Jayawardene stood one away from half-century at stumps. If he is dismissed in this innings, he needs at least 41 more, or he will become the first batsman who has scored 10,000 runs to retire with an average below 50. The partnership is on 98, and one final century stand with Kumar Sangakkara would also be fitting, given there is a small chance this is Sangakkara's last innings at home as well. Sri Lanka do not play Tests in Sri Lanka for almost a year after this one.

The milestones would be nice on day four, for Jayawardene. But not everything has to be so neat. He has won matches off his bat, and thrilled crowds from around the world, but he has never been about the tidy, round numbers. He has been among cricket's greatest artists with the bat, and art is never a perfect science.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Azfar on August 17, 2014, 9:30 GMT

    Sad to see that a great batsman like Mahela will end up with an average below 50........but good exit anyway, with a half century. Well played and all the best.

  • Vinoth on August 17, 2014, 8:09 GMT

    Pakistan must be a proud team. Maheya played his last match with them.

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    This picture happened in a test match ! I think cricketers from other cricketing nations must have a look at it and learn what spirit of cricket is.

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 5:34 GMT

    mahela has not perfect records ...nover cares... and also mahela never cares his personal records if he cares about records round numbers ,he could have reached 12,000 runs in next 2 matches,but now he has 11 814 runs and leave immortal memories we sri lankans used to watch his lovely cover drives,paddle swips and he is also a big match player for sri lanka unless he played every time well ,he played always when team needed him

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    Grate Sportsmanship...from Pakistan ...! This is what Cricket is all about...I hope Mahela will contribute to SL cricket after retiring ..!

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    Greatest among the greats..

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 1:53 GMT

    Thanks Pakistan .. This is spirit of Cricket.. Mahela Jayawardene has been among cricket's greatest artists...

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2014, 21:09 GMT

    Sri Lankan culture of humbleness may very slowly be fading away? But people like Mahela help keep it intact, and it is a pleasure to note it. Maheya would be a great ambassador for cricket and culture Sri Lanka; hopefully he will not be drafted for local politics, instead would stay in touch with the sport he loves for long years after full retirement .

    Maheya is no pushover, however. He has stood up to the antics of the board for example, when he deemed it was necessary. He has been seen yelling to lazy fielders, when it was deserved. He is a personality made of a good mix.

    Best wishes!

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2014, 18:50 GMT

    Apart from Mahela's retirement, what I saw in this match so far is that two teams are playing like same club members divided into two teams and playing a friendly causal game with a lot of humor.

    Nice to watch the sportsmanship of both teams.

  • Kay on August 16, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    It has been one of life's true blessings to have seen him bat for the last 17 years. That century he scored in the 2007 world cup semi-final against NZ would always be my favorite but man he's played some blinders since and before that. Yes, he doesn't have perfect stats but who cares? This guy played cricket for the sheer love of it and to win games for his country, and in doing so he made a whole country love him and adore him for everything he did on the field and off it. He may get out first ball tomorrow and end up with an average under 50, but for those like myself who appreciated the man for his phenomenal stroke play and his astute cricketing mind his legend has already been written and his parting will leave a hole too big to fill in our hearts.

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