Jayasuriya: 'I gave my everything to play for Sri Lanka'

Left-arm spinner opens up about his struggles after picking up 29 wickets in his first three Tests

Prabath Jayasuriya has taken four five-wicket hauls in his first six Test innings  •  AFP/Getty Images

Prabath Jayasuriya has taken four five-wicket hauls in his first six Test innings  •  AFP/Getty Images

A little over three weeks ago, Prabath Jayasuriya was not in the Sri Lanka squad, let alone the XI. But when Lasith Embuldeniya was dropped following a poor Test against Australia, and Praveen Jayawickrama got Covid-19, Sri Lanka needed fresh spinners in the camp, and captain Dimuth Karunaratne insisted on Jayasuriya.
The two had played together at domestic level, for both the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), and for the same National Super League (Sri Lanka's four-day competition) side. What Karunaratne wanted was Jayasuriya's experience - he'd played 62 first-class matches at the time, even if he'd never been part of the Test squad. And tied to that experience was the control Jayasuriya offered.
Unlike the Sri Lanka spinners who had failed to maintain sufficient pressure on Australia's batters in the first of the four straight Galle Tests, Karunaratne wanted a bowler who would continue to probe even when hit for boundaries.
Now, three Tests into his career, Jayasuriya has played a leading role in winning two of those. He's taken 29 wickets in six innings, at an average of 20.37, with four five-fors. The control he brings is reflected in his economy rate of 2.73, but even Karunaratne might not have imagined he could be such a consistent wicket-taking threat.
Having taken eight wickets in Sri Lanka's series-leveling win against Pakistan, Jayasuriya reflected on his path to the top level.
"It hasn't been an easy journey. It was tough to come to Colombo for cricket [from the inland town of Matale, just north of Kandy], because I had no family there and I was alone. Lots of people helped me. Coach Dinesh Weerasinghe helped me, and I played for Colts and SSC.
"But it was tough. I had financial problems as well. I had to balance all that, and didn't want to put pressure on my family either. I had opportunities to play outside the country, but my motivation was to play for my country and play Tests. I gave my everything towards that goal and have some success now."
Where Jayasuriya has excelled, is through his straighter delivery, which as for many good left-arm spinners, brings lbw and bowled dismissals into play. On day five of the second Test, he broke the big third-wicket stand with that delivery, rattling Mohammad Rizwan's off stump as the batter shouldered arms, expecting the ball to turn. After that dismissal, Sri Lanka required a little over 23 overs to get the remaining wickets.
"I've been taking wickets from school level with my arm ball," Jayasuriya said. "On any pitch that turns, you can often get a lot of wickets with the ball that's hitting the stumps. The batter is looking for the one that turns, and you've got a big opportunity to get him with the straighter one. You can't bowl it all the time. You'll get more out of the straight one if you show the batter how much it spins first, and put that doubt in their minds. Then you can use the straight one.
"With that Rizwan delivery I came close to the wicket to bowl it. Usually I have been bowling wide of crease. When I pitched it wide of him, he probably figured that it was going to turn away but it didn't."
Where offspinner Ramesh Mendis had had a modest outing with the ball in the previous Test, he was a much greater threat in the second, taking nine wickets himself. Aside from the run-out of Fawad Alam, Mendis and Jayasuriya had taken all the Pakistan wickets to fall in the second innings.
"What he and I talked, with the coach and the captain, was to make sure we keep the pressure on from both sides. When that happens an end opens up. If you're leaking boundaries from one side, it's tough to get wickets. I think we kept the pressure on really well, and when Ramesh was getting wickets, I made sure to bowl tightly."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf