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Careers over for Sri Lankan duo
05 Dec 2007
By: Paul Wood

Whilst the Sri Lankan population celebrate the record feat achieved by Muttiah Muralitharan for becoming the record Test wicket taker in the history of the game, Sanath Jayasuriya announced his retirement meaning Sri Lanka will now have to cope without both batsman that featured in their most influential opening partnership in their history, at least in the Test arena.

Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu combined at the top of the Sri Lanka's batting order in Test cricket since August 1997 and did so on 118 occasions in total, scoring 4,469 runs in partnership, at an average of 40.26. The amount of runs that they accumulated makes them the third most successful partnership in Test cricket, surpassed only by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (6,482 runs), and Matthew Hayden's combination with Justin Langer (5,655), foundations of which were fundamental to their sides unprecedented success.

They were an accomplished double act in the one-dayers also, managing a higher average than in Test cricket, (43.36) which made the decision to take Atapattu to the World Cup earlier this year and not play him even more puzzling. His relationship with the management was far from ideal and his on-running public disagreements (ultimately referring to them as 'a set of muppets headed by a joker') may have hastened his decision, after he had proved he was still capable of competing against the best, in Australia.

Jayasuriya has of course retired before, in 2006, yet he reversed his decision and returned to the Test fold but has since failed to recapture the form of his glory days, although that did not show with his flashing blade in full effect in his final innings in Kandy.

To forge a successful opening partnership it is imperative that there is an understanding, and despite the huge contrast in their styles, Atapattu and Jayasuriya complimented each other perfectly. One patient, one swashbuckling, one right-hander, one left-hander, one orthodox, one unorthodox. A good line and length to one was being pulverised at the opposite end by the other.

Atapattu was a nervous starter but once he was in and settled there was no way through his tight defence, he possess amazing powers of concentration and a textbook technique with a cover drive that would challenge Michael Vaughan and Michael Hussey as the most pleasing on the eye. He was not deterred by the lack of scoring options, willing instead to grit his teeth, keep his wicket intact and await his opportunity to score. His orthodoxy epitomised the traditional style of an opening batsman.

Testament to his concentration, is the fact that there is only Donald Bradman, Brian Lara and Wally Hammond that have managed more double centuries than Atapattu (6).

Despite being relatively consistent in getting their side off to a solid start, they had to wait until the 43rd attempt before they surpassed the landmark of a century opening stand, and when it arrived, boy did they cash in, against the pace attack of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. It was the third Test and Sri Lanka had already lost the series, but Jayasuriya and Atapattu combined for an opening stand of 335, Atapattu finished on 207 not out while Jayasuriya made 188, the game was ultimately abandoned to to inclement weather.

As is so often the way, you wait so long to reach a landmark that the next one arrives in the very next game, the first Test against South Africa saw them put on a further 193 for the first wicket, and Atapattu and Jayasuriya were becoming one of the finest combinations on the circuit.

If they had endured a start to their partnership that would undoubtedly improve, then the only conceivable way for Atapattu was up, following his turbulent introduction to Test cricket. In his first six innings he only registered a single run, yet his fortunes were turned round when he was asked to open the innings. In their first trip to the wicket together they made 39, with Jayasuriya dominating the headlines for the following days with a fantastic innings of 340 against the unfortunate Indians.

If Atapattu saw the challenge of facing the new ball as a tactical game of patience and severe test of technique, then Jayasuriya saw it as an opportunity to cash in while the ball was hard, enabling him to hit it harder and further than with the softer version, and chance his arm by going over the top due to the attacking fields set by the opposition.

Jayasuriya was certainly the entertainer, he enjoyed nothing more than bludgeoning a delivery that offered width through the point region, unafraid to hit over the infield and indeed over the crowd. To date Jayasuriya has struck over 300 international sixes (there may be more to come as his retirement does not extend to ODI's), while Atapattu on the other hand managed a total of just 19 (four in Test matches and 15 in ODI's).

Atapattu signed off in November with a technically proficient display scoring 80 in the face of some aggressive fast bowling by Brett Lee and co. Despite being in the international wilderness for nearly two years (due to injuries and selection politics) he was still at home at this level and that is the way he wished to be remembered. His career average (39.02) perhaps does not offer a true representation of the talent he possessed, although his average increased to 43.23 as a specialist opener.

Jayasuriya's last innings demonstrated his brand of cricket that had become synonymous with his name, just ask Jimmy Anderson who was savaged for six fours in a single over. He fell 22 runs short of a goodbye century.

The immediate effect of their retirements is that they will have to play the remaining two Test matches against England with a partnership that has relatively little experience of Test cricket. Sri Lanka have not only lost two consistent performers but also two former captains that have attained so much knowledge of the game that consequently they become very difficult to replace.

It is expected that Upul Tharanga will come in to partner Michael Vandort for the remaining two Tests. The pair do have experience of facing the new ball together against England previously, but not particularly fond memories, in four attempts their highest partnership was six.

Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya were two batsmen of obvious dissimilarity, yet as a partnership their compatibility was clear for all to see, and there is no question that it may take Sri Lankan cricket some time to find their perfect alternatives.

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