To be the Sri Lankan cricket captain is one of the toughest jobs in the land. With Sri Lanka’s success at the recently concluded Asia Cup, the heat might be off Mahela Jayawardene but we can be sure that it will return to plague him if the results against India do not go our way.
Historically we have never been patient with our captains. From Bandula Warnapura to Arjuna Ranatunga and onwards through Marvan Atapattu’s and Sanath Jayasuriya’s tenure the public and administration showed a tendency to heap blame upon Sri Lanka’s captains. Not many people will know however that Mahela Jayawardene, statistically speaking, is Sri Lanka’s most successful Test captain to date when it comes to the percentage of matches won.
During his tenure as captain, Sri Lanka has won 11 out of 21 Test matches which gives Jayawardene a win percentage of 52.38%. If we compare this with Arjuna Ranatunga’s record (12 wins in 56) we can see that Jayawardene is to date, a more successful captain. It should be noted however that for the majority of the period that Ranatunga was captain, Sri Lanka were still finding their feet in international cricket.
Looking beyond mere results, during his captaincy Jayawardene has scored 9 Test centuries. His form as a batsman has not been affected to the extent that some people have made it out to be. More often than not when Jayawardene scores heavily, Sri Lanka wins or saves a Test match. This fact as well as his fine fighting leadership is illustrated most clearly in the epic 61 and 119 he scored leading the fight back at Lord’s where Sri Lanka batted out 199 overs in May of 2006, one of the games great rearguards. Of course who could ever forget the 374 he scored against the Proteas at the SSC in July 2007.
Perhaps the achievements that should rank most highly in the mind of the public are his achievements away from home. Sri Lanka’s record away from home has in the past been the cause for concern. Although still not to the standards enjoyed by Australia and to some extent India, Mahela Jayawardene’s Sri Lankan team has now tied series away to New Zealand and England as well as winning its first test match in the Caribbean.
Speaking of his one day record, once again Jayawardene is Sri Lanka’s best captain given his win percentage. This is a staggering 61.76, a worthy record for any nation. The only captain to be within touching distance is Sanath Jayasuriya with 58.26%. His achievements include leading Sri Lanka to a World Cup final and winning an Asia Cup outside Sri Lanka for the very first time. Add to this the 5-0 hammering of England in 2006 interspersed with numerous other one-day triumphs and Sri Lanka’s record despite having an indifferent latter half of 2007 is still very good.
Jayawardene has also not had the freedom in selection that some of his predecessors have had. More often than not in the turbulent structures of Sri Lankan cricket the will of many has prevailed over that of captain and coach. Whilst always backing the selection of youth in a view to developing the next generation of Sri Lankan stars he has always accepted the teams he was given. Somewhat prophetically, when interviewed after his selection as captain, Jayawardene said that "A captain is only as good as his team."
Teams like players will always have their bad patches. The tour to Australia and home ODI series defeats to England has been the low points for Jayawardene. However for a young side rebuilding after the highs of the World Cup in the Caribbean, the period was a time of introspection. His worth as captain is seen once more with the development of talent throughout this period. Farveez Maharoof is emerging as one of the country’s leading all-rounders and Chamara Kapugedera is fulfilling the promise that he showed early on.
Under his tenure Sri Lanka has also unearthed and developed some quality players. Lasith ‘the slinger’ Malinga and Anjantha Mendis have been two wonderful finds and although Jayawardene alone cannot take the credit for their selections, their performances on the field and the ease at which they have settled into international cricket speaks volumes for our captain.
With only one wicket down, in an Asia cup final with a rampaging Virender Sehwag at the crease, it took a brave leader to bring on an untested young bowler. However Jayawardene did and Mendis with 6/13, bundled out India. This habit of showing belief in his players and backing them up to the hilt has been Jayawardene’s most endearing trait; he has earned the trust of his players.
For Jayawardene and Sri Lanka, given consistency in selection, the time is ripe for another surge. It’s hard to argue with Jayawardene’s record and somewhat shameful that just over a year on from being named the Wisden cricketer of the year and the ICC Captain of the year 2007 that people still doubt his ability as a captain and as a player. Still basking in the glory of the Asia Cup, the team now plays India. A tough series as always against one of the world’s superpowers. What will happen to Jayawardene if the series does not go well? That will be up to the national selectors to decide. However if they choose to show the patience and understanding that Jayawardene has exhibited over the past two years, they might just play a part in developing a special team and a special captain.