The legend who made us look stupid


Sanath Jayasuriya prepares to go on his final journey as an international cricketer at his residence in Borelesgamuwa. He arrived in England during the third Test between Sri Lanka and the hosts together with the other ODI specialists.

Rex Clementine reporting from London

There are some similarities between UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe and Sri Lankan opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya. One is that they both are politicians and the other is that however much you push them, they won’t go. And at least one of them will bring down the curtain today ending an illustrious career that spread over two decades, 22 years to be exact. It looked as if Jayasuriya was ever present in the Sri Lankan side. Such was his longevity that Dinesh Chandimal, who is expected to bat at number four today was barely a month old when Jayasuriya made his debut for Sri Lanka at the MCG.

Sometime back, England captain Michael Atherton, an opener himself, conceded that Jayasuriya reinvented the way ODI cricket was played. While agreeing that Jayasuriya was an exceptional ODI cricketer, people don’t give him the due credit for the role he has played in Test cricket. His greatest knock, the 213 he made at The Oval in 1998 to help Sri Lanka win their first ever Test Match in England remains his best knock in any form of cricket and fittingly he would be bowing out at the venue where he helped Sri Lanka create history in front of a packed house. The lowest priced ticket for today is 57 Pounds (approximately 11,000 Rupees) and there will be plenty of Sri Lankans paying that money to see him one last time.

He may have overstayed his welcome, but you have got to respect him for fighting till the last moment. All of us give up too easily, but not Sanath Jayasuriya, well, for that matter even Wickramasinghe. Till the last minute, Sanath’s enthusiasm never wavered. The argument that he should have been part of the Sri Lanka’s World Cup squad is still rumbling and the way he worked out Kevin Pietersen with his left-arm spin in the T-20 International at Bristol showed that the old guile is still there.

Sanath, however, may have cooked his goose by seeking political intervention for his selection for 2011World Cup. Sadly, he never realized that he didn’t have to associate with politicians to get what he wanted. Politicians rather needed to hang around with him for he was a global brand name. Sanath Jayasuriya was the Michael Jordan of Sri Lanka. And in the end, it may have been a mistake not to pick him for World Cup, especially given the fact that Sri Lanka did have a specialist left-arm spinner in Rangana Herath in their World Cup squad.

Politics and Sanath

It was no surprise when Sanath Jayasuriya took to politics. He loved politics and in turn politicians liked to be seen around with him and most of his wishes were granted. Sadly, what’s not known is that on most occasions he sought political assistance not for himself, but for his team-mates. In 2002, when the selectors opted to rest Marvan Atapattu from the third Test against Zimbabwe at Asgiriya, Jayasuriya directly took up the matter with then Sports Minister Johnston Fernando. Eventually Atapattu was reinstated and mind you the selectors were sacked.

It was clear from those days that he will take up politics one day. But what was not known then was that he will take it up while playing and representing SLFP. There was this belief that he was an UNPer.

There has been no other Sri Lankan cricketer who has been under so much of media scrutiny like Sanath Jayasuriya. It only took a few games without a big one for journalists to write the epitaph. But on each occasion, he bounced back making us look stupid. Here’s a case in point.

Just before the 2003 World Cup, The Island and Divaina carried out a ruthless attack on him for refusing to sign the World Cup contract ahead of the tournament. The Ambush Marketing Clause, introduced for the first time by the International Cricket Council, had been done so to protect the commercial rights of the tournament sponsors. Jayasuriya and four other players argued that they were suffering financial losses due to the Ambush Marketing Clause. None of the Sri Lankan players had contracts with rival products of the tournament sponsors and they were just asking for more money. That was the reason for our brutal attack even calling for his sacking.

Just before he went on the tour, the players agreed to sign contracts and Jayasuriya’s relationship with the media, certainly with Upali Newspapers, had become strained. In Sri Lanka’s first ever game in that World Cup at Bloemfontein against New Zealand he scored a brilliant hundred and at the media conference gave us that cheeky smile driving home the point.

Then again in 2004 there were calls to drop him as he went through a lean patch without a fifty in nine innings. Jayasuriya would have probably been dropped for the third Test at SSC, but in the second innings at Asgiriya he scored a stunning hundred to save his career.

In 2008 too there was quite a bit of criticism after then Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge intervened in his selection for the Asia Cup. He had been originally overlooked and was picked on his form at the IPL. But he answered us, his critics, with a match winning hundred in the Asia Cup final against India when Sri Lanka’s batting had collapsed in dramatic style. And he loved proving us wrong.

He was a ferocious reader too!. He bought all newspapers during matches to read what had been said about him and the team’s performances and he was offended if a grim picture had been painted.

The fans, particularly female fans that he won were many. More importantly, he inspired many a youngster, particularly those from the rural areas. His case will be quoted in many years to come to inspire the younger generation.

He may get the tributes for what he has done as a player, but his record as a Sri Lankan captain is not spoken in the same breadth. But if you analyse, he has the best record for a Sri Lankan captain in Test cricket having won 18 matches for the country, including ten successive wins.

The impressive run came to an abrupt end when he made a miscalculation, of all places at Lord’s. The year was 2002 and thanks to hundreds from Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka posted a 500 plus total and bowled out England cheaply. This mind you was without Muttiah Muralitharan. But Jayasuriya then made the fatal error of enforcing the follow on and Sri Lanka didn’t have enough fire power to bowl England out twice. Nothing went right from thereon as Sri Lanka lost that series 2-0.

During his tenure as captain, he oversaw the induction of several young players into the side. Kumar Sangakkara was one and Thilan Samaraweera was another. Both players have 50 plus averages in Test cricket. During the 2003 World Cup, he also resisted calls to drop Mahela Jayawardene after he went through the tournament without getting to double figures even once. "He is too good a player to be dropped," Jayasuriya used to say.

His high profile nature sees him being entangled in gossips frequently. The latest to emerge is that he has filed for divorce. The truth, however, is far from that. Very few know that he agreed to his wife’s request to christen their three children, Keshani, Yalindi and Ranuk. He’s been a caring father and a loving husband.

Very few also know that he takes steps to celebrate the birthdays of his children at orphanages at times! The reason being to teach his children that there are underprivileged people living among us and to lift those who are struggling in life.

Sanath Jayasuriya was the golden boy of a golden era of Sri Lankan cricket. He will be missed.

This is not to show that Sanath was a paragon of virtue. He was responsible, together with Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan for the rebellion against Arjuna Ranatunga when the latter was the Board Chairman in 2008. It’s even said that the senior players of the side ensured that Ranatunga was snubbed after the team won the Asia Cup. It was all done in retaliation to Ranatunga’s stance that Sri Lankan cricket comes first ahead of IPL. It’s hard to think that the very players that Arjuna himself nurtured turned their backs on him. Sanath, however, will have to pay for his sins, if his belief that ‘what goes around comes around’ is true.

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