Colombo: Test cricket will bid farewell to one of its most elegant stroke-makers when Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene quits the longer format after the second and final Test against Pakistan, here, on Thursday.
Few cricketers have exemplified the spirit of the game better than the gentlemanly 37-year-old even though his pleasant demeanour hides nerves of steel, a calculating street-smart mind and an obsessive drive for perfection.
The elegant batsman retired from Twenty20 internationals after Sri Lanka’s title-winning campaign in the World T20 this April, but still hopes to compete in next year’s World Cup Down Under to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Jayawardene, however, admitted it was not an easy decision to retire. “It has been a great privilege and honour representing my country during the past 17 years. But I believe this is the right time…
“The younger players in the side are doing well and Angelo (Mathews) has settled in as captain. My job is done,” he said.
A prolific slip-catcher, Jayawardene’s 202 catches are second only to India’s Rahul Dravid and his record tally of 210 by a fielder other than a wicket-keeper. Jayawardene was also an astute captain who took Sri Lanka to the World Cup final in 2007.
He quit the post in 2009, but continued to play under Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekaratne Dilshan before he took on the job again in 2012 for a year as Mathews was groomed. Off the field, Jayawardene is the co-owner with Sangakkara of an upmarket fish restaurant in Colombo.
Sangakkara said his good friend would be hard to replace. “Not just me, but the cricketing world, Sri Lankan fans and our whole team will feel the loss of a great player like Mahela.
“It will take a long time to fill that void. He’s always been the ultimate team man. Everyone in the dressing room respects and admires his honesty, integrity, commitment, inner strength and great strategic vision,” Sangakkara expressed.
Jayawardene falls among the five batsmen to have scored more than 11,000 runs in both Test and one-day cricket. An average of 50.02 over 148 Tests with 34 centuries illustrates his hunger for runs through a 17-year-career.
Although his form outside Asia has been inconsistent, he has set a deluge of records at home. He scored a monumental 374 during a world record partnership of 624 with Sangakkara (287) against a South African attack that included Dale Steyn and Makhya Ntini on his home ground at the SSC back in 2006.
Jayawardene looked set to surpass Brian Lara's record of 400 when he was bowled against the run of play. As an ideal teammate, he preferred to rejoice in his team's huge win by an innings and 153 runs. He got a taste of big scores on his Test debut itself as a 20-year-old in 1997, when Sri Lanka piled up a world record total of 952 for six declared against India at the Premadasa.
Slated to bat at No. 6, a young Jayawardene saw Sanath Jayasuriya make 340, supported by Roshan Mahanama (225), before he himself scored 66. (Agencies)