9 July 1999

Jayasuriya - the rural boy who made it to the big time

Sa'adi Thawfeeq

For a country which has historically relied almost exclusively on Colombo-bred players, the rise of Sanath Jayasuriya from humble beginnings at Matara to become the country's national captain is certain to spearhead a new wave of Sri Lankan cricketers drawn from the rural areas.

Modest as he is despite his rising image as an international cricketer Jayasuriya believes he wouldn't be in this position today if not for his principal at St. Servatius College, Matara, G.L. Galappathy. The school had a limited cricketing background, but it was the enthusiasm of Galappathy and his first coach Lionel Wagasinghe that ensured Jayasuriya's talents flourished.

"I am greatly indebted to Galappathy for supporting me during my formative years. He ensured I got everything I needed to further my cricket. My parents couldn't afford the exhorbitant prices even at that time for cricket equipment," recalled Jayasuriya.

"His love for the game made him introduce junior cricket to the school in 1978. It aroused a lot of interest among the pupils and he ensured the enthusiasm remained by coming to see us practice every day after school," said Jayasuriya.

Born in Matara on June 30, 1969, Jayasuriya's cricketing pedigree was scant. His father Dunstan worked in the Urban Council in Dondra and had no active interest in the game and his brother Chandana had forsaken cricket to take up work in the Fisheries Department.

"No one played cricket from my father's side, but from my mother's side her brothers played and captained St. Servatius. I really didn't have a cricketing background," said Jayasuriya.

He captained his school from under 11 till the first eleven, went to Australia with the Sri Lanka team for the inaugural under 19 youth World Cup and to Pakistan a few months later with the Sri Lanka 'B' team where his two unbeaten double centuries made people sit up and take notice that a star was on the horizon. Shortly afterwards he was drafted into the national side for the tour to Australia in 1989-90 and since has remained a permanent fixture.

"I played as a lower-order batsman at no. 7, but where my career really took a complete turn was in Australia in 1995-96 when Roshan Mahanama got injured and I was asked to open the batting. I made a hundred and then a fifty. From then on I have remained an opener," said Jayasuriya.

What a change of approach it made to Jayasuriya's batting. He went onto develop into one of the most destructive left-handers in the game. The World Cup in 1996 which he considers the high point of his career saw Jayasuriya at his best.

The term 'pinch-hitter' was stolen from baseball to convey the tactic of an opening batsman given licence to adopt a high-risk approach against compulsory attacking fields. With his opening partner Romesh Kaluwitharana, Jayasuriya brought into play a new tactic where the first 15 overs was used as the last 15, to catch the opponents by surprise, and good enough to win the World Cup.

Jayasuriya was voted the 'Most Valuable Player' in the World Cup, and Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, the cricketer's 'bible' daringly broke tradition (only players who have performed in England are eligible) to name him as one of their Five Cricketers of the Year in 1997.

The decision was controversial but within a year it had proved to be infallible. Jayasuriya who by now had come to earn a reputation as a dangerous one-day opener, proved that he could also bat the conventional way by batting for more than 13 hours to make the fourth highest score in Test cricket - a monumental 340 against India at the R. Premadasa Stadium. He followed this with 199 in the same series, and 213 against England at the Oval last year.

Jayasuriya had a rather moderate World Cup in England by his high standards having had his right forearm busted a few months before the big event in Australia by fast bowler Brendon Julian when he was approaching something close to his true form - a fifty off as many balls.

"I was out of action for about two months and I have still not got back into form," said Jayasuriya.

He said the pressure of captaincy was unlikely to affect his batting."I am a natural stroke player and I will play my normal game whether I am the captain or not. I don't think that is something I should worry over".

Source :: The Daily News (http://www.lanka.net/lakehouse/)