The cricket world is full of too many nice and cool captains. Virender Sehwag is so afraid of breaching the spirit of cricket that he doesn't want to claim a dismissal that he believes is rightfully his side's. Michael Clarke finds mankading immoral, takes runs off overthrows off his bat but wants them reversed, and is generally conscious he is not seen as pushing the line. MS Dhoni maintains his cool, not changing things despite his team's poor results, because then he will be seen as getting flustered.
Mahela Jayawardene is refreshingly different. Just watch him respond to appeals turned down. Just watch him try to pull every possible trick within the cricket laws. Just watch him argue with the umpires today when they had missed a no-ball, and called it upon the batsman's insistence. He just let rip. He argued with the umpires while they were arriving at the decision, went to the square-leg umpire a ball later and continued doing so, and at the end of the over had a go at the other umpire, throwing his hands up frequently.
There are some who will call it poor behaviour, but here was a captain of a side whose fielders had dropped more catches than acceptable in a whole tournament, a side that could be proud of having come so far, a side that was playing its fourth game in eight nights, but Jayawardene didn't want it to end this way; he wanted to make it five games in 10 nights. And what is wrong with losing your cool once in a while as long as it is not banal abuse?
You want to see desperation, you want a losing side to pull every trick before accepting defeat, you want somebody to stir a side up when it begins to go through the motions. Sri Lanka were going down at that time. Two batsmen were approaching centuries, Sri Lanka's grip on the game had come off, and Australia looked good to score 300. Jayawardene agreed it is good for a captain to sometimes let it go.
"I guess so," Jayawardene said. "Just to get hyped up a bit more. Probably the bowlers also felt that, you know, that it was unjustified, and backed me in the last few overs, I guess. Overall it was a good game. Credit to the boys. We had to make a few tough calls."
Is there a bit of Arjuna Ranatunga in there? Jayawardene said he wouldn't go that far, but said he feels the need to break the status quo at times. "Just sometimes I tend to argue myself into things," he said, "and I know I have a good partner in crime in Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara] if I don't get it right. So one of us will always try and make sure we argue to the point, and then that's it."
"He moved up the order, which coincided with Sri Lanka's first good opening stand and their first win. It couldn't have been an easy move, because it involved telling Upul Tharanga that on current form he was not good enough to open in testing conditions"
Of course, this altercation wasn't the reason why Sri Lanka won. Jayawardene's total involvement as captain has been part of the reason why the floundering side has turned it around under him. He took over an unpaid and broken side, and began the campaign with two defeats in the hometown of the coach who had just been sacked without reason. One of his openers was a walking wicket, his best bowler hadn't had a great tournament. As captain on the field, Jayawardene has had just one off day, when India chased 321 in 36.4 overs.
However, Jayawardene also had to shake things up as a batsman. He moved up the order, which coincided with Sri Lanka's first good opening stand and their first win. It couldn't have been an easy move, because it involved telling Upul Tharanga that on current form he was not good enough to open in testing conditions. "Everyone has taken it positively," he said. "Not just Upul. The other day he batted at six and batted positively. We have to sometimes play purely tactically."
Jayawardene was an angry man today. "Definitely I was disappointed," he said. "Especially when you are playing just four bowlers, and depending on Dilly [Tillakaratne Dilshan] to be the fifth, and he did a great job. We knew we had to pick up wickets, and that's the only way we could control that batting line-up. And our guys were dropping everything. We can laugh about it, obviously because we had a very comfortable win today, but it would have definitely cost the match and the tournament."
The fury showed in his batting, in how he stepped out to hit James Pattinson for his first boundary, in how he swept Daniel Christian for a six, in how he went at a rate higher than Dilshan's, in being in full control of the game. It was unfortunate when, for whatever reason, Jayawardene quit captaincy. Now that he is back, it is fun to watch him lead Sri Lanka.
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran