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Andrew Fidel Fernando
July 14, 2014
Retiring batsman Mahela Jayawardene is one of Sri Lanka's greatest with the bat and as captain, Muttiah Muralitharan has said. Murali played 96 Tests alongside Jayawardene - 28 of those under Jayawardene's leadership, from 2006 to 2009.
"He is one of the greatest players who has ever played for Sri Lanka," Murali said. "He has a superb record. We have him and Kumar Sangakkara from the younger group, but when you consider great Sri Lankan batsmen, he is in that group with Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya, who have all contributed so much to Sri Lankan cricket in the batting side.
"Mahela made my job a lot easier, because he would play long innings, get a lot of runs, and give me a lot to bowl at. At home he was a very consistent batsman. He had a compact technique from the time he came in, and he grabbed his chances. At the time he arrived, it was very hard to get into the team because there were a lot of senior batsmen. Somehow he performed well and got into the team. I had heard of him for some time before he played international cricket."
Murali also affirmed Jayawardene's reputation for scoring hard, important runs for the team. Jayawardene's 374 is the highest score by a Sri Lanka batsman, but Murali remembers his innings in the next match most fondly.
"The 123 against South Africa at the P Sara Oval was probably the best one, because no one else could play like that in that match. He was the only batsman to get a century. All the best players play very well in the big matches, and Mahela is one of those. He was very good at handling pressure and tried to always put the team in the best position."
The Murali-Mahela partnership is the most prolific bowler-fielder combination in Tests, accounting for 67 wickets. Jayawardene had memorably taken the edge off Pragyan Ojha in Murali's farewell Test, to give the bowler his 800th wicket.
"He was always good off me, and I preferred him to be at slip because he had very fast reflexes, a good technique and good hands. I think taking slip catches off spinners is one of the hardest things, but he was the best at that. He started off at short leg, and he took a lot of catches there as well, before moving into slip. I always felt comfortable with him there."
One of Murali's most successful periods as a bowler had also come under Jayawardene's captaincy. He took 186 wickets at 21.25 when Jayawardene was at the helm.
"Mahela was very good with the strategy side of things and setting fields, and again he was one of the best. He understood the game a lot and knew quickly when things were changing. He gave all his players a lot of confidence, and especially backed the youngsters, so that was good.
"He was a quiet person in the dressing room - he didn't say that much but he concentrated on the game. He didn't try to get into any controversy. He just stayed focused and played well."
Jayawardene was particularly prolific at home, thanks to an excellent technique against spin bowling, Murali said. "At the start he was a bit vulnerable to seam bowling, but he worked on that. But he was always good for spin, because he read the ball well and used his feet well. He has scored a lot on turning tracks because of that."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernandoFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between Australia and South Africa at the MCG