When Sabina woke up to Mahela
President congratulates cricketers
COLOMBO: President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday lauded the Sri
Lanka Cricket team on their comprehensive victory over New Zealand
at the Sabina Park in Jamaica on Tuesday.
President Rajapaksa had conveyed his best wishes to Captain
Mahela Jayawardena and his team by telephone before the match.
The President is expected to be in Barbados to witness the 2007
Cricket World Cup final, for which Sri Lanka has qualified for, on
the invitation of Barbados Premier Owen Arthur.
JAMAICA: It takes a lot to impress them here at Sabina Park. Many of
the locals who came through the turnstiles were weaned on some of the
game’s all-time greats. Some were here in 1983, when Viv Richards hit a
violent 36-ball 61 to transform a dying Test into an improbable triumph,
and those whose memories stretch back further can recall the silken
strokeplay of Lawrence Rowe. So when they started purring towards the
end of Mahela Jayawardene’s innings, you knew you were watching
At the lunch break, the word most used to illustrate his unbeaten 115
was “sweet”, but those who uttered it didn’t use it as you would to
describe a tasty-but-insubstantial dessert.
They were marvelling at his range of strokes, the impeccable timing,
and an ability to find the gaps that is the preserve of the truly
exceptional. A cursory look at Jayawardene’s one-day figures suggests an
underachiever, and he would be the first to admit that translating
immense talent into innings that matter hasn’t always been easy.
It perhaps didn’t help that he was always marked out for greatness,
or that people back home saw him as the successor to Aravinda de Silva,
the shotmaker extraordinaire and hero of the 1996 triumph. Too often a
pretty cameo would be cut short by a lackadaisical stroke and the nadir
was reached at the last World Cup, when his seven visits to the crease
fetched him just 21 runs.
His dismissal, caught behind off Brad Hogg, encapsulated Sri Lanka’s
limp surrender in that Port Elizabeth semi-final and you could scarcely
blame him for a jittery start when he arrived at the crease on Tuesday
“We were anxious and nervous,” he said later. “Till I faced my first
ball, it was hard to get the butterflies out of the stomach.” The
difference this time was that he went into the game with 414 runs to his
name and three innings that had showcased a special talent. As he had
against West Indies in Guyana, he started extremely cautiously, weighing
up the opposition bowling, sussing out the pitch and doing little more
than tap the odd ball into the gap. Cricinfo
At Sabina Park, as he had at Providence, he scored only 22 off the
first 50 balls he faced. This though was a World Cup semi-final, and
there was no Sanath Jayasuriya at the other end to tear the bowlers
apart while he played himself in.
Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan helped create some mid-innings
momentum, but it was clear that Jayawardene would have to apply the
finishing touches. And even though Stephen Fleming brought Shane Bond
back into the attack with a view to a quick kill, it was the Sri Lankan
batsmen who suddenly started to float like butterflies and sting like
In a manner befitting the local legend Rowe - “There was no shot that
I couldn’t play” - Jayawardene shed his inhibitions and unveiled a
stunning repertoire of strokes. A precise straight loft and a disdainful
mow over midwicket had the crowd in raptures, but it was the delicate
touches, the tickle to fine leg and the twirl of the wrist that sent the
ball speeding to third man, that made him look a class apart from every
other batsman in the game.
A sweep was played with such precision that the fielders running from
deep square leg and fine leg nearly collided, and other shots dragged
the fielders all the way to the rope before mocking them by crossing it.
It was the sort of innings that defines a career. “I’d probably put
this right at the top,” he said. “This was a World Cup semi-final.” In
truth, it’s hard to see how he could have played it a couple of years
ago.At the press conference, Jayawardene talked of how he had benefited
from the responsibilities of captaincy, and a coach who combined an
amiable exterior with a tough-love approach. “Tom [Moody] has definitely
pushed me to the limits,” he said.
“He’s not happy when I’m cruising.” It’s a measure of the man’s
humility - and that applies to most of his team-mates as well - that he
took chastisement in the right spirit instead of spitting the dummy like
other cricketers from the subcontinent.We all know where they ended up.
As for Sri Lanka, they are where they always wanted to be. “This was
a big hurdle for us to jump, but we’re there now,” Jayawardene said.
“We’ve been preparing for that day for some time.”
The identity of the opposition doesn’t bother him much. Regardless of
whether it’s Australia, the deserving candidates, or South Africa, the
back-door entrants, Sri Lanka will have to deal with a fast and bouncy
Barbados pitch.The captain, who led with such imagination in the field,
“To win the World Cup, you have to beat the best,” he said simply. It
helps to have gnarled old hands on board, hands that have previously
touched the game’s greatest prize.And though only Muttiah Muralitharan,
Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas remain from that celebrated bunch,
Jayawardene was in no doubt as to how much his crew owed to Arjuna
Ranatunga’s world-beaters. “The ‘96 guys changed the face of Sri Lankan
cricket completely,” he said.
“They paved the way for us.
Those guys went through a lot of hardships, and we’re reaping the
rewards for that.”
The biggest harvest awaits on Saturday.