There isn't a notice on the Sri Lankan dressing-room door but if there was one, it would read: 'If you find the old Mahela Jayawardene please return. We need him. Desperately.' The man responsible - if indirectly - for the debacle today, and for the team's recent struggles, is the man leading the side. It was a game India won as much because of Sri Lanka's middle-order problems as on their own strength. India didn't lack gunpowder; they just didn't have to fire.
The effect of Jayawardene's woes on Sri Lanka were reflected in Sanath Jayasuriya's reaction when Kumar Sangakkara fell. There appeared a touch of anger as he punched in the air when Sangakkara chipped straight to midwicket, a realisation that Sangakkara's fall would be the beginning of the end. And it was. Though Farveez Maharoof tried his best with a breezy knock, the rest couldn't put together a total to test India on this pitch.
The middle-order muddle not only affected what happened after Sangakkara's dismissal, it influenced what transpired before that. Jayasuriya wasn't allowed to be himself, Sangakkara knew one mistake would prove too costly and it didn't help that Tillakaratne Dilshan fell early. Even though his career as an effective opener is just one series old, he seems to have already made an impact on the way the team plays; he allows Jayasuriya the luxury to attack and enables Sangakkara to be fluent and importantly, help hide Jayawardene.
Today, with Dilshan's early wicket, Jayasuriya was forced to restrain himself. Dhoni, not one to miss a trick, milked the situation by getting in a lot of overs from various irregular bowlers. Jayasuriya must have been severely tempted to free his arms against them but he held back. And so Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina rotated their arms without much fear, indeed almost hoping Jayasuriya would have a go at them and lose his wicket. Dhoni later said they wanted Jayasuriya to take risks and that they played to a plan. But Jayasuriya was like a monk, cocooned in his own meditative zone, oblivious to the dancing damsels.
|Jayawardene has to find his bearing and perhaps, the change in fortune will come on home ground. For that the captain has to bat up the order, back himself - and find himself|
Yusuf Pathan too had one of his best days with the ball. It was the first time in the last seven games that he bowled more than four overs. In his career, only against Hong Kong and Bangladesh has he bowled his full quota of ten overs; partly because Dhoni used him as a filler but mainly because he leaked runs. Today, though, with Jayasuriya and Sangakkara inhibited by the team's needs, Yusuf was allowed to get into a rhythm. Even so, Jayasuriya did finish at almost a run-a-ball and on another day, situation permitting, he would have done better than the 49 runs at even pace from the trio of Rohit, Raina and Yusuf on a pitch that didn't offer any turn. That he went on to become the oldest man to score a hundred beating Geoffrey Boycott's record shows what a class player he is.
Jayawardene, with a highest of 28 in 13 innings, demoted himself today but, even though he explained it as a ploy to use the batting Powerplay, it is surely not the permanent solution. The two men in the lower order - Thilina Kandamby and Chamara Kapugedera - are still learning their trade and it would be unfair to place too much of a burden on them. Some would also construe the captain's demotion as an admission that he can only hit himself out of his current form.
Demotion might have worked in a different team with batsmen in form but not in this side. It can still work but it will be the tougher route to take. Jayawardene has to find his bearing and perhaps, the change in fortune will come on home ground. For that the captain has to bat up the order, back himself - and find himself. That notional notice on the dressing-room door can then be consigned to history.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo