Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 1st day July 24, 2014

SSC's Superman does it again

With two gone early and a brittle middle order to come, Jayawardene played the kind of innings that grabs you by the collar, flings you on a train and sends you packing on an adventure

For the eleventh time, the SSC scoreboard had a three-figure score for Mahela Jayawardene © AFP

A palm-lined beach, a curry swimming in coconut milk, and spiked with red chilli - though this Sri Lanka team enjoy their travel, there is nothing quite like returning to the comforts of home, they said, as they began their first assignment on the island this year.

But so far, they have not made the best of being in Sri Lanka. They were undone in the ODIs, on a turner in Colombo, then at windy Hambantota. Then they banked on spin on a dry Galle pitch in the first Test, only for South Africa to exploit the conditions even better, only differently - through reverse-swing. In a must-win match in Colombo, Mahela Jayawardene played one of his last few innings at his beloved home ground. With 140 not out on the first day, he finally exerted the home advantage Sri Lanka had been expected to have since the opposition landed.

The SSC is where everything in Jayawardene's cricket falls into place. The cracks are patched up. The toxins purged. At times over the past few months he has seemed scrambled in ODIs and leaden-footed even in Tests. But at the SSC he is not so much walking on air as he is gliding about as if the air itself is guiding his every move.

At this ground, his mind synchronises with every cell in his body. Head still, hands sure, he strokes the ball with languor, and so late. Yet, though Jayawardene is on Sri Lankan time, the ball bursts off his blade like a Cape Canaveral rocket ship, or a Tokyo bullet train. He was lbw to a full, fast one in the first innings at Galle. When Dale Steyn tried pitching the ball full and straight in the seventh over here, it zoomed through midwicket like it had an appointment with the fence.

Some Jayawardene hundreds are built brick-by-brick. The late cuts and swivel-pulls are there, but they are the colourful flashes in innings otherwise strung together by grit. His century in Dubai, in January, was one of those. Not here. Not where he is practically Superman. Two wickets had fallen before the sixth over, and another collapse seemed almost inevitable, but like in so many of his best innings, the match situation seemed irrelevant. He had ten runs off his first five balls. Then 38 off 45.

There was swing in the morning, and enough carry for Quinton de Kock to take a few at head height, but between the 15th and 25th over, Sri Lanka were hurtling ahead at a run rate of almost seven. South Africa tried bowling full, short and in the channel, but each new ploy seemed an opportunity for the batsman to unfurl a new shot. Morne Morkel tried to bounce him in the 21st over; Jayawardene just leant back and stroked it for four over slip.

"From the first ball itself he was more positive and looking for runs," said Kaushal Silva, who has seen more of Jayawardene than most at the SSC. "That was one thing I didn't see him doing in Galle. He was determined to get a hundred today, and he was mentally prepared to score runs too. I saw that while batting with him."

There was no hiding loose balls from Jayawardene in this mood, and South Africa's spinners quickly found no faults in length or line would go unpunished. He watched one full over from Imran Tahir first, but then his trips down the pitch were almost sadistic. Tahir attempted to outdo him in flight, but throughout the day, it seemed as if Jayawardene was on a conveyor belt to the exact spot the ball would pitch. Some were larruped through cover, others lofted straight. Occasionally, instead of looking to free his arms, Jayawardene sought to close the angle down and whipped Tahir through midwicket.

He played the faster, flatter Duminy from the crease, getting back outside the leg stump to cut, then slinking to off to push him to through the leg side. In a chanceless 140, Dean Elgar came closest to getting him out. He kept firing it outside Jayawardene's leg stump when he was in the late 90s, and Jayawardene finally mistimed one on 99, spooning the ball two meters wide of short fine leg.

Even late in the day, as cramp and fatigue set in, the runs kept flowing from his blade. Steyn had been beastly with reverse swing at Galle, but in the 68th over, there Jayawardene was, sliding into a back-cut for four, almost treating him like a spinner.

Almost a quarter of Jayawardene's Test runs have come at the SSC. There is no denying it is, as Angelo Mathews put it before this match, a "batsman's paradise". But on Wednesday, with two gone early and a brittle middle-order to come, Jayawardene set out to attack. It was the kind of Jayawardene innings that grabs you by the collar, flings you on a train and sends you packing on an adventure. Along the way, his team took the second Test by the scruff of the neck as well.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arun on July 25, 2014, 14:34 GMT

    "Almost a quarter of Jayawardene's Test runs have come at the SSC. There is no denying it is, as Angelo Mathews put it before this match, a "batsman's paradise" Home conditions, batsman's paradise, maximum number of centuries scored in this venue....I am not sure if the writer is extolling the virtues of Jayawardene, the batsmen or has a hidden agenda to satirically renounce his greatness as a batsmen. I am not sure if there is any other batsman in the world, who has such a lopsided record of scoring on home conditions. (I don't know how many centuries he has scored at other venues withhin SriLanka...)

  • Sri on July 25, 2014, 14:30 GMT

    Well done Niroshan. Sanath: Are you thinking of appointing Niroshan as Vice Captain?

  • Sinhhalaya on July 25, 2014, 13:43 GMT

    Mahela was in the zone on Thursday until his ageing limbs sent him a message or two in the late afternoon. Watching almost every ball he faced, I can now see why he wants to retire after 17 years of hard labour for SL. On Friday, he did the job of mentoring young Dikwella through the morning session. This is what he is ideally suited for. However if fitness issues are preventing him from delivering 100% performance, he will be the first to call it a day - which he has. One more vintage knock against Pakistan will prove the icing on a consistently delightful cake. Good luck to him and wish him every success in life after cricket. I still think that the ICC CWC 2015 is a bridge too far, though. Even for MJ the Champ.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    I think all Sri Lankans impress the way young Niroshan bat, he left the bouncing ball very well. SL have much talented young players, give them a chance they will prove like Niroshan did. Selectors do not have to go with the name, if some one failed let them to go back to domestic cricket and prove that they are capable for international cricket.

  • Denham on July 25, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    @Krunal Patel, why don't you go and encourage your team to win the series in England? After all, they have won just 2 tests at Lords and the last which was a few days ago after 28 years???? How good is that mate? When your team toured England last, you got whitewashed if my memory serves me well, on the other hand, we just won all the series in England and are back home. Everyone has a favourite ground to bat on, not only Mahela....

  • Bhaskar on July 25, 2014, 9:46 GMT

    This is called "Lion attack" when Jayawardene plays, he brings joy to not only the lankans but all the real cricket lovers, he is called the Lion of the island, the originals have retired, Arjuna & Sanath now it is JOYawardena. When Lion attacks the springboks only can hide or get face the onslaught. Go Lanka Go, it is 1-1 better the winning margin.

  • Pad on July 25, 2014, 9:39 GMT

    There is something that people are very shallow in their cricketing views when it comes to Mahela. If perth is the capital of playing on bouncy pitches, Galle is the capital of playing on turning wickets. What is amazing about Mahela's numbers proves that he is one of the best batsman against spin the world has ever seen!! Just see how beautiful his feet, and his wrist moves against spinners, this is a special talent. It is sad that many shallow cricket fans tend to focus on what he is not good at than the magical talent he was gifted with.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    Yup superman in sri lanka terrible anywhere else. Check the stats lol. Mediocre player who played the losing knock in the only tournament that matter which is the 50 over world cup haha.

  • Logan on July 25, 2014, 8:24 GMT

    This game will be a draw and SA will win the series and regain their no 1 spot

  • Saman on July 25, 2014, 3:45 GMT

    Though SL is in a relative safe position , they shouldnt take things easy as yet. They need another 100 to 150 runs to make life difficult to SA. For that they need to play the first 45 minutes to one hour safely . Second new ball is almost brand new hence it will do something for the first session , so all on Mahela's hand to guide the youngester Niroshan Dickwella to play an innings that will become his famous memory in time to come. Anything over 450 will be an added bonus and SL spinners can dictate terms to SA then.

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