Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, Group B, Providence May 3, 2010

A Twenty20 hundred for the purists

Before this tournament started there were two Twenty20 international hundreds. In the last 48 hours that tally has been doubled and Mahela Jayawardene's even 100 will rank among the finest innings played in the format

Before this tournament started there were two Twenty20 international hundreds. In the last 48 hours that tally has been doubled and Mahela Jayawardene's even 100 will rank among the finest innings played in the format. It proved, beyond doubt, that there is still a place for elegance and grace in the smash-and-grab world of Twenty20.

For a while it looked like rain would scupper Sri Lanka, but they managed to race to five overs in Zimbabwe's chase before another downpour. Now they are likely to progress to the Super Eights, and Jayawardene is going to take some catching as the tournament's leading scorer if his form continues, having begun with 81 off 51 balls against New Zealand three days ago.

On early form it is shaping as a race between him, Suresh Raina and possibly Shane Watson. Raina and Watson made their mark yesterday against South Africa and Pakistan respectively, but they were both innings more akin to this format. That isn't for one minute suggesting they weren't worthy knocks, far from it as Raina produced a glorious 60-ball 101 and Watson pulverised Pakistan with a 49-ball 81.

But watching Watson, and to a lesser extent, Raina hammer the bowling attack wasn't nearly as fulfilling an experience as watching Jayawardene toy with the Zimbabwe attack. The bowlers he faced weren't of the class of South Africa or Pakistan, but Jaywardene was in complete control from the moment he struck the second delivery of the match for four and the third for six as 14 came off the first over. It was a faultless innings.

"I'm relieved and happy we managed to play a game out there but I thought the day belonged to Mahela who batted absolutely brilliantly," said Kumar Sangakkara. "To score a hundred in Twenty20 isn't easy but the way he is batting I think he'll keep on doing things that are incredible."

It is a complete justification of his elevation to opening, which has led to Sanath Jayasuriya coming in at No. 8. Only twice in his previous 579 internationals has Jayasuriya batted so low and they were back in 1990 and 1991. Before Jayawardene moved, he had an underwhelming average of 22.05 from 23 Twenty20s and the task of launching the innings was left to Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Now Sri Lanka have found the way to make the most of Jayawardene in Twenty20, especially with Jayasuriya coming towards the end of his career.

"It wasn't that I was disappointed batting lower down, I had a different role, it's whatever fits in but I knew I could be a lot more free and express myself a bit better batting higher up the order," Jayawardene said. "I started in provincial cricket back home and it went well and continued at the IPL, then I had a chat to my skipper. When you are in form you have to make best use of it, and in Twenty20, you need guys to control the innings so the big hitters can bat around you."

Jaywardene has always been one of the most pleasing batsmen on the eye and it is testament to his skill that he has been able to translate that into Twenty20, where the temptation is to leather the cover off the ball. However, regardless of how quickly runs need to be scored, there is no point swinging blindly because the net result is unlikely to be as successful as retaining the basics that make for successful run-scoring in any format. However, Jayawardene could probably make slogging looking graceful.

"I had to challenge myself to be a bit different in Twenty20 cricket as well as all the other aspects of the game," he said. "So you keep pushing yourself to try and be a better cricketer every day."

His impressive IPL form has no doubt played a part in his prolific start to this event, as have pitch conditions in Guyana, which are akin to those in Colombo and Galle. Still, batsmen normally like to take a little time to get their eye in but Jayawardene drove his third delivery over long off to signal his intent. It wasn't even a half volley, yet the back-of-a-length ball from Chris Mpofu was lofted on the up; in a Test match, or even an ODI, it would have been left or defended with a high left elbow.

Against New Zealand he had dominated the scoring - after six overs he had 30 of Sri Lanka's 36 - and was at it again here, when Dilshan's poor run continued as he miscued a lofted drive for 2. This time after six overs, Jayawardene had 48 (off 25 balls) out of Sri Lanka's 59 for 1 and his fifty off 27 balls was the fastest of the tournament to date. Because there was so little outlandish swinging by Jayawardene, the opportunity of the hundred almost crept up, and when he nudged a single into the leg side he celebrated with an understated lift of the bat to the dug-out and the crowd.

There has also been a role reversal with his opening partner Dilshan, who led Sri Lanka's batting at last year's World Twenty20 but can't buy a run this time. However, you couldn't get two more contrasting players and there isn't a Dilscoop in sight when Jayawardene has his bat in hand. There is no need for such extravagance when the tried and tested methods work so well.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajinda on May 7, 2010, 1:23 GMT

    What is clear from the final posting is that although backing a "former" legend & hope he'd catch fire in the future, some cannot even remember an actual "major" tournament, their hero won for SL. Sad thing to me is that I never compared MJ to J'ya. It's like apples & oranges, each to their own, different players with different approaches to the game, both effective in their own way. Besides they play for the same team, so what's the point. All I said was that J'ya is past his prime & should have bowed out gracefully years ago. Others blindly back J'ya & marginalize the performance of a player like MJ who is in TOP form. However by comparing the 2 players in his final posting, it is obvious to the world how selfishly some SL fans think., which is not any different from the SL Board's thinking. It's one of the reasons why SL is never on top, why we can't find replacements to Murali, Vass etc. Talent is there, if only players, board & fans weren't selfish for their own causes & moved on!

  • Arosha on May 5, 2010, 18:39 GMT

    This would be my final posting here, so I need to make my point clear before leaving. I have good respect to Mahela, may have watched him since I was 14 or so (I'm a couple of years younger than him & in a totally different field). But what really worries anyone who admires Mahela is he's really good on flat tracks milking moderate attacks, still struggles on more challenging tracks especially when up against good attacks under some pressure. He may have a couple of sparkling performances overseas, yet only a very few given the vast amount of matches he's played. I mean ODIs here, NOT tests where you can take all your time & adjust to the conditions at your pace. No comparison is required when it comes to ODIs between J'ya & Mahela. Any good enough follower of the game would know. Mahela seems classy when on song, yet fails miserably in between in most cases. If I want the class, I mean the genuine class, I'd turn to T'kar, Ponting or Lara, not to Mahela. Even De Silva was far better.

  • Rajinda on May 5, 2010, 17:07 GMT

    Some live in stats world. Fortunately cricket is played in the real world, on a turf using a bat & a ball, not a pen & a calculator. People have free time to dig up stats & think they are experts on cricket. So they know what MJ did as a 16 year old, so what? Does that make them a rational thinker? BTW, look who's talking about still living in the past, & still hoping to see lightning strike for J'ya, again. When was that, 3 yrs ago? BTW what Major tourney did J'ya win ALONE? Hope they are not counting Asia Cup & Tri series as Majors.. REALLY? The only tourney that qualifies as a Major was the 96WC win & it was Ara not J'ya who won that! Albeit even Ara would say it's a team sport & he didn't win it alone. At least Ara left on top, not greedy like J'ya. MJ may not have the average or strike but he is still kicking butt & taking numbers. I think it's time for some to get off a broken down stud still in the team thanks to politicians & give credit when & where it's due.

  • Arosha on May 5, 2010, 8:26 GMT

    It's quite dissapointing to see some not having even any rational thinking.They still live in Mahela's master class against NZ in '07WC semi final (where rest of his 500+ runs in the whole tournament came at a pretty ordinary strike rate), his 3/4 hundreds against Eng. in '06, etc..If you say you have memory, I may have few times of that.I can clearly remember more of his magical innings;his maiden ODI 100 against Eng. in Aus. in '99/'00,his 30+ ball fifty against the strong Pakistani attack in Sharjah in early 2000s,& his 95* to win the ODI tournament in '05/'06.Also his majestic 167 against NZ in the test played at Galle as a mere 21 yr old in '98,brilliant 168 at Welegedara stadium as just a 18 yr old against a strong SA U-24 attack in '95,his 108 as a 16 yr old against Eng U-19 side in '93.I can keep going on,but can you loose the biggest picture?.8000+ runs in 300+ ODIs at a mere SR of 75+ batting at 4-5?.How many major tournaments he's won for SL , compared to De Silva or J'ya?.

  • Binoy on May 4, 2010, 19:06 GMT

    You might think im crazy, but jayasuriya is where he should be. He shouldn't open, he's past his batting prime, and is more of a bowler who can occasionally hit the ball hard. I think Sri Lanka has the right team, they just need Dilshan to come back into form and they would have a devastating opening partnership! I think that's what is best for the team!

  • Rajinda on May 4, 2010, 16:49 GMT

    Have to agree with ELLIS about the Monday morning QBs writing here. No matter what SL does, Kumar does or MJ's brilliance, there's always a few idiots not happy. The guy I referred to in my previous post has posted here again, saying MJ is yet to prove he's a match winner. duh! 4 his benefit I'll remind him just a couple of many. 07 WC semis 100 against NZ, 2010 tri-series final against India & 06 series in ENG. Just cause MJ doesn't maul every ball & play for the "gallery", some think he is not a match winner. Acknowledged by the world as a shrewd tactician on the field he doesn't have to always perform with the bat to win a game. As for ppl claiming Sanga is out to get rid of a legend. Same ppl accused MJ when he was the skipper too. It's not a win win situation for them. On one hand they have to give the new guys a chance, but cannot drop the ailing legends, because of the "gallery" support. The bottom line is that these legends should have bowed out gracefully many moons ago!!

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    What a batting line up! guess it's the worlds best as a cricketing legend can't find a place to bat any higher than no 8. Sangakkara is totally out of his mind, and with his recent form I don't mind Sanga batting at no 8 and Santh open with mahela or atleast at no 3-4.

    Well done Mahela! I hope you give some advice to your swollen headed best friend.

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    Raina and Mahela... ha ha why would yo want to compare? Thats like comparing mahela and sachin.

  • Michael on May 4, 2010, 10:55 GMT

    Here we go again! The Monday morning quarterbacks and armchair critics who pose off as Sri Lankan supporters are at it again! They are rarely satisfied and are always on the hunt for conspiracy theories. Jayasuriya has an important role to play, and will. He is at the tail end of his career but can still contribute. Jayawardena's innings was all class. No matter who it was against, the manner of it's making was the proof of the pudding.He was, is, and will be a class batsman in all forms of the game. Clearly one of the best in the world right now. Sangakkara is an innovative captain. Those types always run the risk of having tactics go astray.Especially if the team is not in top form. The real weakness in the SL team in this format is their performance in the last five overs whether batting or bowling. The absence of consistent long ball hitters and at the death bowlers is a major weakness. Malinga rarely bowls as well for SL as he does in the IPL. Vaas is sorely missed in this phase.

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2010, 10:02 GMT

    Well Most of you guys want to play sanath Up the order. This is T20. Spinner opening the Ball,Thisara Perera Came @ no 3. Whle Chandimal is Due for that place. No Wonder If Mendis open the inning Next Match For Srilanka,

    Bit Of Sanga's Captaincy Record's

    In Srilankan 50 Over Domestic Tournament Final. Sangakkara Sent Weerarathna As Opener. And T20 Semi Final he sent Samaraweera As Opener while Weerarathna Available.

    What is Going On Sanga's Mind

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