Five of Mahela Jayawardene's best innings August 9, 2014

Graceful steel

A maiden Test hundred, a century at Lord's, a triple against South Africa, and a 180 when his team-mates floundered are among Mahela Jayawardene's virtuoso performances

167 v New Zealand in Galle, 1998
Mahela Jayawardene's maiden hundred, not only announced his transition from schoolboy hero to Test asset, in his fourth Test, it also set down major themes of his career: superb technique against spin bowling, and a hunger to succeed where all else has failed. On a Galle surface that was crumbling from the outset, Jayawardene defused a spin attack headed by Daniel Vettori, and attacked the fast men who had begun to achieve inconsistent bounce from early in the first innings. No other batsman in his team scored more than 36. The highest score in the opposition was 53. Replete with the cover drives and late cuts that would become his trademarks, Jayawardene's innings was the point on which the series pivoted, allowing Sri Lanka to win the Galle Test and the next one at SSC, to reverse a 1-0 deficit.

119 v England at Lord's, 2006
If the maiden ton in Galle was Jayawardene's coming of age as a batsman, this knock marked his arrival as captain. Batting first, England piled on 551 before Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Sajid Mahmood combined to knock Sri Lanka off for 192, of which Jayawardene had scored 61. Following on after the team had a shellacking from coach Tom Moody, Jayawardene arrived at the crease late on the third day to begin his six-hour defiance. Typically for Jayawardene, even in rearguard-mode, he would not shelve his shots. He was driving and hooking early in his knock, and he continued to be positive against the quicks, if not always aggressive. Sri Lanka still had to bat out most of the fifth day after his dismissal - which Jayawardene felt should not have been given out - but he had seen the team out of immediate danger, and set them on course for a famous draw.

374 v South Africa at SSC, 2006
The big one. Sri Lanka had gunned South Africa down for 169 after the visitors chose to bat, then Dale Steyn removed Sri Lanka's openers in his first two overs to suggest the wickets would keep coming. Then, Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel ran into the most monumental Test counterattack of all time. Jayawardene's first fifty runs came off 72 balls, and he sustained a strike rate of around 65 for the duration of his innings, while Kumar Sangakkara kept pace as well. Nel and Steyn were walloped. The spinners were milked. Jayawardene batted in seven different sessions before Nel sneaked a low one through his defences. The tempo Jayawardene had achieved during his knock meant the bowlers still had plenty of time to complete the innings win.

123 v South Africa at the P Sara Oval, 2006
South Africa rebounded from that hiding to have Sri Lanka under pressure at the P Sara Oval just over one week later. They had taken a first-innings lead and made 311 in the second dig to leave Sri Lanka with a target of 352 - a figure higher than any that had been chased either in the country, or by Sri Lanka. Sanath Jayasuriya crashed 73 off 74 balls to set the hosts on track, but it was Jayawardene who bound the innings together, intelligently composing the only century of the match, on the kind of track on which batsmen found it difficult to stay in. Given the enormity of the task, and the quality of the opposition attack - which featured Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock - the fourth innings at the P Sara arguably saw Jayawardene at his finest.

180 v England at Galle, 2012
Kevin Pietersen's hundred in Colombo the following week is talked up as a great innings, but in Galle, Jayawardene produced another long, lone effort, denying a James Anderson's swing and Graeme Swann's bite to carry his team toward a respectable total. He was not just the only man to reach triple figures in the first innings, he was also the only batsman to pass 30 for Sri Lanka, after most of his colleagues had scattered at the sight of the pressure England's bowlers exerted. Sri Lanka's batsmen collapsed in the second innings, and Jayawardene's 180 would prove to be the difference between the sides, as the hosts claimed a 75-run win.

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

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