Little Big Man of Cricket

Sanath Jayasuriya became the first Sri Lankan player to reach the magical 100 Test mark, during the second Test against Bangladesh recently, not bad for a player whom did not come to the fore until the age of 27. International Cricket lovers first learned of this explosive little opener during the 1996 World Cup, his uncompromising style of batting, was a new revelation to ODI fans, as Jayasuriya and to a lesser extent his opening partner wicket keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana attacked aggressively from the first ball.

International teams had previously aimed to be 60/0 after the first 15 overs, now the Sri Lankan’s were aiming for ninety and above, regardless of wickets lost. Even though he was chosen as the Man of The Tournament, It will always be a disappointment for Jayasuriya that he was run out for just 9 in the World Cup final of 1996, although he did field and bowl well.

It was not long before Sanath Jayasuriya showed his appetite for Test runs including a career best of 340 against India, this after India had amassed 537/8 declared. Sanath’s score is the highest first class score ever made in Sri Lanka and with Roshan Mahanama (225) established the highest wicket partnership for any wicket in Test Cricket (576). In achieving that feat Jayasuriya had demonstrated that he could play the ‘big innings’ as well as the cavalier knock.

Sanath Jayasuriya along with Marcus Trescothick probably has the best eye in international cricket; experts have been predicting for years that his lack of footwork would be his undoing. Six and a half thousand runs and 14 centuries have consistently proven his critics wrong. Throw in the forearms of a wharfie, and you have one of the best cutters of a cricket ball in the history of the game. For a little man Sanath can also drive effectively. And is one of the rare players to have a higher Test batting ave than his first class average, however both are over 40.

Sanath Jayasuriya became the first Sri Lankan, and only the 4th player in ODI Cricket history to score 10,000 ODI runs, he has managed to maintain an average above 30 despite the frenetic way he tackles his ODI innings, his fierce cutting and pulling have earned him the sobriquet of the ‘Matara Marauder’. The tactic of Sanath and Sri Lanka have changed the entire tactics of One Day Cricket, from a score of around 250 being considered competitive countries now have to think of making 280+ and even this is no longer considered a guarantee of victory.

It was a melancholy moment for Jayasuriya when he resigned the Sri Lankan captaincy following the 2003 WC, after a number of off field controversies. This was a disappointment after he had created a good team spirit following the demise of Arjuna Ranatunga. It was a surprise at the time when Sanath was given the captaincy, it was expected that either Aravinda De Silva or Roshan Mahanama would succeed the highly successful, but equally controversial Arjuna. Any concerns were quickly laid to rest with Sanath leading Sri Lanka to ten straight Test victories during 2002.

In any discussion of Sanath Jayasuriya his left handed batting will always take centre stage, but it should also be mentioned that he is a more then useful slow left arm bowler, who has now claimed 92 Test Wickets and 267 ODI scalps.) and it is little wonder that this shy genial man has become a legend of Sri Lankan Cricket. At 36 and on the back of a very good year (2004) with the bat, Sanath Jayasuriya still has more to offer Sri Lankan cricket.

It is a mark of the esteem in which Sanath Jayasuriya is held within the Sri Lankan team, that reports were circulated that Sri Lanka were considering not enforcing the follow on against Bangladesh, in order to give Sanath the chance to post a worthy score to celebrate his 100th Test (he was dismissed for 13 in their only innings). In the end they enforced the follow on and went on to win by an innings. Sanath Jayasuriya the consummate team man, and competitor would have been 100% behind the decision to go for the victory.

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