Sri Lanka cricket April 5, 2014

T20's old-world poster boy

Mahela Jayawardene's T20 career is testament to an innate cricketing intelligence that has allowed him to freely adapt his game for the shorter formats

Long levers, a blacksmith's shoulders, the chest of Adonis and a disregard for batting's conventions: if a Twenty20 superhuman were assembled, Mahela Jayawardene may not be required for its parts. As the format hurtles giddily towards transitory millennial glamour, lighting up its stumps and jazzing up its dancers, by some small miracle Sir Mix-A-Lot has not been lured to reprise "I like big bats and I cannot lie" for a tournament song. Yet, through the neon noise, there Jayawardene was, dismantling attacks along with the brutes, crashing good balls over the ring, crafting T20 gems, but all on his own terms - always on analogue.

Among the clichés evoked by Jayawardene's T20 success has been the thought that he makes quick runs "playing proper cricket shots" - that he proves batting fundamentals can endure un-eroded in the age of "not losing one's shape" and "swinging through the arc". Yet, if he is an advertisement for old-world style, then he is its only poster-boy. The format at times seemed an indignity to Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman; it was too new for Mohammad Yousuf and too much for Michael Clarke.

Some might contend Kumar Sangakkara has also remained relevant in T20, but his innings have not been nearly as good, nor is his batting nearly as pretty as it pretends. Sangakkara has outstripped Jayawardene in so much in the past six years, but here, as they exit together, Jayawardene retains the higher ground.

Perhaps it should be no surprise he has been his country's best T20 batsman, because to label Jayawardene a purist is not to say he is a stickler for tradition. He wields the heave and over-the-shoulder scoop as well as anyone, and the reverse sweep has been among the most productive of his limited-overs array in recent years.

That stroke also reveals something of the cricket IQ that has seen him transplant his game. During a priceless 42 on a Colombo dustbowl in 2012's World T20 semi-final, Jayawardene had the gall to sweep Saeed Ajmal against the turn past short-third man, but when he manoeuvred to play the same shot against Shahid Afridi, he anticipated the bowler would fire in a googly, then sent it above the off-side field for four. The reverse-sweep would earn him close to a third of his runs that evening.

That he resorted to using the back of the bat during the 2009 World T20, because he could not play the shot effectively even then, seems flabbergasting now. Tempered by care and circumspection in Tests, he is unshackled by instinct in the shorter formats, sometimes to his detriment: he was out to the reverse sweep in the 2012 final. As he cuts spinners late as sin, or slinks forward to lift the fast men over cover, few good bowlers will feel they do not have a chance. The joy of his success is heightened by his daring. Each four feels like a caper, every big innings an adventure. On the pitch, he lives out the observer's wonder.

"While I enjoy all formats of the game, and Test cricket is certainly the pinnacle for any player, the journey in Twenty20 cricket has been fascinating," Jayawardene had said when he announced his T20 retirement. "In many ways it helped me get back to my roots, to bat like I used to when I was a schoolboy - for the sheer love of playing attacking shots and expressing myself with full freedom."

He is the second-highest run-getter in the format, commanding an average of 32.81 and a strike rate of 136. As is the case in ODIs, those numbers have been dramatically better when he opens the innings. The versatility of his cricket is so often a boon for his team, but a bane for his record. He is one of the few players who say there is little value in individual accomplishment beyond its use for the collective, and truly mean it.

After the storm that cut West Indies short in Mirpur, Darren Sammy suggested the divine had intervened to send Jayawardene and Sangakkara through to the fifth final of their careers. So often the freest, most expressive Sri Lanka player at the big occasion, perhaps even the universe would not abide a Jayawardene diamond duck for a swansong.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 7, 2014, 7:58 GMT

    Prefect farewell for 2 of the great players of this era. well played SL.

  • Dummy4 on April 7, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Had a little Cry reading this article... Eventhough I was 1000s of miles away from home I felt like I was there in person. Thank You So much :)

  • Amir on April 6, 2014, 18:41 GMT

    Very nicely written article about a great human being. I agree with meerkat55, 'On the pitch, he lives out the observer's wonder', a great line. Congrats to Sanga, Mahela and the rest of the SL cricket team and the fans for a well deserved T20 World Cup.

  • Dummy4 on April 6, 2014, 18:11 GMT

    Salute for a Great Nalandian, Cheered him when he was playing for the school team, we were 5th graders wearing shorts. Always knew some day will represent Sri Lanka. Well done bro, you made us proud. From a fellow Nalandian.

  • James on April 6, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    Why India has so much respect on Mahela ? KC is the best batsman they have. Need to say only Indian thinks it differently

  • Mohamed on April 6, 2014, 17:59 GMT

    The greatest veterans and the legends of Sri Lankan cricket saved their best for last. brilliant performance Sanga Mahela,it was sheer team effort! your contribution to SL cricket is immeasurable. undoubtedly you will be missed in this format but glad you will avail your expertise on other formats. We are proud of you both!

  • Dummy4 on April 6, 2014, 17:46 GMT

    Perfect farewell for two legends, in shorter version of this game. Now Chandimal and Thrimanne have to take over, with the likes of Angelo and Thisara to keep T20 format of SL live. Finally Sanga brought a much needed victory to SL. Youngsters have a lot to learn from these two legends.Even though they are failed with the bat they use brains and keep the unity to keep the things live and active. It is also appreciated the tough decision taken not to play Chandimal for the sake of the balance of the side, which ultimately proved to be productive.

  • Dummy4 on April 6, 2014, 12:58 GMT

    thank you mahela. one of the greatest of all time. and sanga too!!!

  • sarath on April 6, 2014, 12:29 GMT

    In fact you are not a sports writer Andrew, you are a poet. This article is fitting tribute to a great yet humble son of our nation.