The Jayasuriya One-Day saga
by Revata S. Silva

It was truly fantastic. Something which defies rational thinking. True that Sanath Jayasuriya had guts and nerve to reach great heights in his fairy tale cricket career during the last decade. But it was more a rollercoaster ride of a na`EFve teenager.

The existing open economy may have had something to do with it, carrying this youngster on a gigantic and mind-boggling tumult, which actually made cricket history to be written again. It will be hard for anyone resembling this ordinary southerner coming out for Sri Lanka cricket so soon. One Day cricket was the matrix this new-look hero was cast in. Then everything happened. His interesting story might run a few volumes if it is to be most graphically and intelligibly narrated. Sanath’s story is nothing less than a saga. When it comes to nearly thirty five years of One Day international cricket, his name will ever pop up again and again.

One might agree, one might not. Some might wish to spit this fact out like a bruising nettle in the mouth, but many millions might will feel otherwise.

Sri Lanka cricket may never find a cricketing star as fabulous as ‘Sana’ as he is affectionately known in the island. To this writer’s knowledge, nobody else earned as much as Jayasuriya did through a Pepsi Cola advertisement at the height of his popularity in the aftermath of the Wills’ World Cup win in 1996.

Modest beginnings

Since the days Jayasuriya, as a chubby kid, was noticed by a village school cricket coach for his extraordinary batting skills hitting tennis balls in unusually effective style on the southern sandy beaches at Matara, his cricket evolved in a modest but not sensational note till his entry at national level.

He first played One Day internationals from December, 1989, over a year before he got his Test cap. In that year’s Benson & Hedges series match against Australia, played in Melbourne, Jayasuriya faced only five balls before being dismissed by Merv Hughes for three runs. He then played his first Test in February, 1991.

Then Jayasuriya took 40 matches and 46 months to score his first ODI fifty. That was against Pakistan in Sharjah. Till his 37th match he was batting down the order and played more as an bowling allrounder with the accent on his left-arm leg spin. He batted at No. 3 for the first time in October, 1993.

In a Hero Cup match played in Patna, India in November, 1993 against Zimbabwe, Jayasuriya came out as opener for the first time partnering Roshan Mahanama and scored 23 in 27 balls. That was his 42nd one dayer. He scored his first ever ODI century, 140 in 143 balls with 9 fours and 6 sixes, against New Zealand in his 71st match played in Bloemfontein, South Africa in a Mandela Trophy match

When Sanath played in the first 1996 World Cup encounter (against Zimbabwe in Colombo), which was incidentally his 100th ODI match, his career had spanned six years. That really was a modest period which can now be termed the ‘pre-ecstatic era’ of Jayasuriya’s career.

A star is born

As said earlier, Jayasuriya defied more than any other the pure rationale of the cricket thinking. He came from nowhere to stun the world of cricket. He rose from the ashes, as it were, to rewrite cricket history books and alter and radically change the orthodox scenarios in cricket textbooks.

The true fairytale begins after the ’96 World Cup. The fifteen-over fielding restrictions were scrutinized. Many other perceptions governing the game and ingrained tactics underwent a bizarre sea change.

Afridis and ultimately Gilchrists, too, were born and the entire one day game, if not the classical form of the game was stood on its head. Wisden bestowed the title on Sanath as the "Player of the Year" in 1997.

Tension was heightened and the game spelt a fanaticism in the subcontinent. All these because none other than this shy, slightly built youngster with iron fore- hands and awkward temperament in batting and with a religious faith in the middle were the salient characteristics of his cricket make-up.

The records flew in a trice. The fastest ODI ton, then the fastest fifty, the most number of sixes, the highest ODI individual score and the most successful captain – in terms of success ratio – in the country etc.

The result was as expected. Beautiful Jayasuriya sarees came out from Mumbai. A film on his lifestory and many new born kids in India named after him. And, a new brand of rice called Jayasuriya rice! Commercialism was in full swing.

Grand decade

The last decade saw the player oozing with confidence and reaching status of a folk hero, a seasoned campaigner who looks to wind up a career investing it in a classical dramatic genre. Maybe the next World Cup in the Caribbean will be the defining moment.

But the saga does not end there. The lessons are there from far greater heroes of the grand cricketing history. The fact in Sri Lanka is that heroes are born but dismantle themselves in quick time. The same thing happened with many of our heroes who stepped down from the game in recent times.

How will Jayasuriya saga continue in this small island in years to come? Will it be another disappointing flop or will it be a dawn of some valuable cricket tradition? Everything depends on how serious Jayasuriya will be on the importance of himself in future sports in Sri Lanka.

But one thing is certain. This southerner has already reached dizzy heights in the sport. Jayasuriya insignia will definitely be something hard to be erased off in annals of the local, if not the regional, sports history.



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