Mahela Jayawardene retires July 14, 2014

Stylist makes pragmatic exit

After bidding farewell to Test cricket in front of his home fans, Mahela Jayawardene will focus his energies on one final tilt at the 50-over World Cup

For so much of Mahela Jayawardene's career, his cricket was ruled foremost by instinct. Where other batsmen would avoid playing the pull with a leg trap set, Jayawardene took the field on. Where other captains would formulate exhaustive plans and stand by them through duress, Jayawardene devised new strategies on his feet, with a finger to the pulse of the match, and a heart to innovate and attack. Unburdened by the captaincy late in his career, he also developed a candid streak, firing barbs at administrators and opposition when he felt he or his team had been wronged.

But as his race takes the final corner, Jayawardene has given in to pragmatism. He has never been obsessed with the sport - the loss of his brother in his teenage years has always anchored him to perspective. But cricket has been his life, ever since he was scouted as a precocious talent, for Nalanda College. He walks away from his favourite format having coolly considered the present and the future, and having come to terms with his own limitations. Always the team man, he leaves before anyone thinks to show him the door.

The knocks take longer to heal at 37. Injuries wipe Jayawardene out for entire tours, instead of two or three games, and pressure of year-round, high-intensity cricket begins to wear the mind as well. His fingers are always in some state of disrepair. Fielding is perhaps the only discipline where statistics across formats may justifiably be merged, and having taken 418 international catches - by far the highest for a non-wicketkeeper - his hands bear the toll of a life in the slips. His knees are not quite what they were either.

Having hit over 11,000 Test runs and 33 hundreds, the one burning desire that casts a shadow on all else is also in another format. Jayawardene has won the World T20 now, top-scoring for his team in that campaign, but two World Cup final appearances have whet his appetite for cricket's biggest limited-over prize.

He has often said the 2015 campaign would be his finish line, but in recent months there have been inklings he might not quite get there. The big shots in ODIs have found fielders instead of the fence. He has been worked over and out-thought, even at home. Where Sri Lanka used to rely on all three senior batsmen, they have lately leant on Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who have protected a misfiring middle order with their own improving returns.

But if Jayawardene is to play in the World Cup, he would be mortified to do so as a passenger. He knows one hundred and two fifties in his last 23 innings is a streak that is beneath his ability -though important innings have come on big occasions. An exit from the most taxing format frees Jayawardene up to refresh his focus on ODIs.

Both he and his fans will also find it fitting he bids farewell to Tests on home soil. Beyond the Pakistan series, Sri Lanka have no home Tests on the schedule for 10 months at least. Among the most impressive figures Jayawardene has accrued - and ironically the numbers for which he attracts most flak - are his records at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground and at Galle. No batsman has scored more heavily in one ground than Jayawardene has at either venue, and he averages over 70 at both. SSC is a notorious featherbed, even if more than half of Jayawardene's runs at the venue have come in result matches, but Galle is often as great a test of batting technique as Newlands or the WACA ground are.

If fit and selected, Jayawardene will play two more Tests at Galle and one at the SSC. His final Test will be at the P Sara Oval - a ground he does not like as much, but which had been the scene of perhaps his finest innings, in 2006. Against an attack featuring Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn, Jayawardene hit the only century of the match, and was the backbone of Sri Lanka's highest successful fourth-innings chase of 352.

Beyond the cricket field, another calling has drawn him during the past seven months. Jayawardene did not just fly in and out of home, as many cricketers do for the births of their children; he had almost a month off in December, while his team played limited-overs series in the UAE. His "girls" were among the first people he thanked upon winning the World T20. After what will seem like a lifetime on the road, he will soon be theirs alone.

Jayawardene has endured vast upheaval, on and off the field, in his seventeen years at the top level. In that time, he has rarely failed to give all of himself to his team and to the sport on the island. He has only so much cricket left in his veins. He will save what he can for the final stretch home.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chandrasekhar on July 17, 2014, 4:06 GMT

    He is most astute tactician on the cricket field, that aspect of his game will be sorely missed, there is no one out there who can get so much out of the limited resources at their disposal than Mahela.

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    One of d great cricketer in d world..!

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 16:40 GMT

    A true legend and an inspiring figure. As good a batsman as any over the last ten fifteen years. Well done, Mahela. Respect and good wishes for the future from an admirer from Pakistan. Thank you.

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 13:27 GMT

    I totally agree with Charindra, People tend to rate a century made at Waka higher than a century made at galle its a joke , what people need to understand is that playing in spinning tracks with good spinners is a hard tack as playing in a fast track with seamers and Mahela is a master of playing in Spinning tracts, Its a different Art so if someone is trying to rate him down because he made most of his centuries in spinning tracks its a complete joke. He is such a great Cricketer in all, Super batman super fielder and more than super Captain, Will miss him the most yet i hope he will come back as a coach , Think he will be so good at it !!!

  • Sinhhalaya on July 15, 2014, 6:48 GMT

    @Udendra: Well said sir. Playing tests where technique, character and experience count as much as a fleeting show of skill and flair, and is where MJ would continue to excel. That is also where he is most needed by SL at least until 2016. I would back his decision to play in the ICC CWC 2015 if SL had even a slim chance of making a semi at the very least. The recent ODI results show that giving them even a 50-50 chance is optimistic given that the bowling is so unpredictable. That is indeed a pragmatic assessment. 5 day cricket is less intense and enervating than the shorter form and gives time for thought and strategising - Mahela's forte. Also, by 2016, Mathews will be 29 and should be mature enough to lead on his own without help from Sangawardena. Lastly, who on earth can be picked from the 2nd tier to replace Dilly, Sanga and MJ? No young batters on show have been even moderately convincing. That said, thank you for all you have done MJ. Wish you the very best.

  • Charindra on July 15, 2014, 6:38 GMT

    Mahela in full flow was one of the most serenely beautiful things I have seen on a cricket field. Although he wasn't that great outside the subcontinent, he was excellent at home on turning tracks. I don't know why people consider a pitch like WACA to be more challenging than a pitch like Galle. Both pose great challenges, and apart from the threat of injury, WACA doesn't have anything greater than Galle. Anyway I wish the last match was at SSC and not P Sara. But never mind. I'll be there, wishing for a century.

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 5:50 GMT

    U r my favorite cricketer since school days. Proud product of "Mother Nalanda".

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 5:16 GMT

    The most stylish players of this Era. Enjoyed watchinghim play .. Thank you mahela

  • udendra on July 15, 2014, 4:35 GMT

    For me, this is not pragmatic. Pragmatic is for him to play in Tests and retire from ODIs (if out of form)