Offensive Jayasuriya keeps things polite

By Tony Lawrence
JOHANNEBURG, South Africa, March 17 (Reuters)
- Sanath Jayasuriya is a rarity. He may, indeed, be unique. How else to describe a man who manages to be modestly macho, while outrageously thrilling, all in a quiet, understated sort of way?

He is also popular. Sri Lanka and Australia, who meet in the World Cup semi-final on Tuesday at Port Elizabeth, have had an uneasy relationship in recent years but it is hard to imagine Jayasuriya raising his voice to anyone.

If he sledges, it is surely done at fine leg or long on and in a whisper, to make sure no one could possibly be offended.

His batting, though, is overtly offensive.

The 33-year-old left-hander has been offending bowling statistics for the past seven years, since re-inventing the one-day game almost single-handedly.

He had begun his career as an understated sort of left-arm spinner, batting quietly at number seven.

Just before the 1996 World Cup, however, someone had the idea of transforming him into an opening pinch-hitter to take advantage of new laws which forced more fielders into attacking positions for the first 15 overs.

The stocky, Popeye-forearmed Jayasuriya, helped by some flat batting tracks, proceeded to make a name for himself — 82 runs off 44 balls against England in the 1996 quarter-finals, 53 off five overs with the help of Romesh Kaluwitharana against India in the semi-finals — as Sri Lanka lifted the trophy.

Jayasuriya, a devout Buddhist, had continued in like fashion ever since.

While he can take care and time over his craft — he took more than 13 hours to paint a test 340 against India in 1997 — he is better known for one-day caricatures and doodles.

They remain valuable collector’s items nonetheless.

Sixteen times he has scored one-day centuries and only once have Sri Lanka ended on the losing side. The 16th came against New Zealand earlier in the tournament.

The most exciting must have been the 134 not out off 65 balls against Pakistan in April 1996, an innings including 11 fours and 11 sixes, although his 189 off 161 balls against India in October 2000, just five off the world record, also deserves mention.

Ask Jayasuriya about his batting, though, and he will glance the conversation adeptly towards team mate Aravinda de Silva’s fine form, or to Muttiah Muralitharan’s off spin. Or, indeed, to the weather or towards anything but himself. It’s his way.

The Australians will certainly be talking plenty about him before Tuesday’s game.

Ricky Ponting said as much after the side’s first meeting in the World Cup, when Brett Lee sent the Sri Lanka captain to hospital with a chipped thumb bone and a badly bruised forearm.

"You don’t want to see anybody seriously hurt and hopefully he isn’t," Ponting said. "But it’s a World Cup and we are trying to bowl where the batsman is less likely to score. It that happens to be the body, then we are at the body.

"There is a weakness in his game, we have picked up on it of late."

And perhaps the Australians have — Jayasuriya clearly enjoys wide, full deliveries which he habitually carves over point or flicks over square leg rather than 160 kms an hour ribcage deliveries.

But that did not stop Jayasuriya — who has batted and bowled on at the World Cup despite his injuries and a bout of tonsillitis — scoring 122 at Sydney in January, in Australia’s last one-day defeat.

"I need to go and play my own shots. You can’t hang around," he said that day. Australia will be very keen to make sure he doesn’t do just that on Tuesday.