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The art of Mahela

He started out slowly and switched to all-out attack, and played not a graceless shot throughout

Dileep Premachandran

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Mahela Jayawardene cracks the ball through point , New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 1st semi-final, Jamaica, April 24, 2007
Mahela Jayawardene: silk and steel © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Mahela Jayawardene
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Cup

Mahela Jayawardene
115 not out v New Zealand, semi-final, 2007

The Mahela Jayawardene of 2007 was a far cry from the run-shy imposter of four years earlier. The burden of captaincy, which had weighed down better batsmen, appeared to liberate him, and the poise and panache with which he gathered runs in the Caribbean was instrumental in the Sri Lankan surge to the semi-final. The venue, Sabina Park, was once famed for its lightning-fast pitch, but after a fiery opening burst from Shane Bond it quickly became apparent that spin would be the key as the game progressed.

Sanath Jayasuriya fell early and Sri Lanka had to build their innings the old-fashioned way. Jayawardene exemplified that approach, making just 22 from the first 50 balls he faced. Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan played some strokes at the other end, but with Jeetan Patel getting big turn, it was as though Jayawardene had decided that a score in the region of 250 would be enough.

Bond, who had been devastating earlier in the competition, was brought back and suddenly the shots started to cascade off the Jayawardene bat. No bowler was spared. A straight loft and a cleave over midwicket showcased strength, but what really had the crowd in raptures were the deft touches - the deflections to third man, impossibly fine glances and sweeps placed so precisely that converging fielders nearly took each other out.

The second half of Jayawardene's innings was played at Jayasuriya pace, without ever compromising on the grace that makes him so easy on the eye. On the island that gave the cricket world George Headley and Lawrence Rowe, it was a career-defining innings. After Muttiah Muralitharan's supple wrists had completed the demolition job, Jayawardene was to say: "I'd probably put this right at the top. This was a World Cup semi-final." We won't argue with that.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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