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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Mahela Jayawardene is born - exquisite timer, astute leader

Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara with Mahela Jayawardene
©Reuters

May 27, 1977 - Over a 17-year-long international career, Mahela Jayawardene represented Sri Lanka in 149 Test matches, 448 ODIs and 55 T20Is. Jayawardene scored more than 10,000 runs in both one-day cricket and Tests - the first Sri Lankan to reach the milestone in Tests.

It was heartening but not surprising when Kusal Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne lifted Mahela Jayawardene on their shoulders and carried him around the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka. Sri Lanka had just won the ICC World Twenty20 2014 final by 6 wickets after beating India and the Sri Lankan players wanted to give the best possible farewell to two of the all-time greats of the game - Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

Sangakkara, who was by Jayawardene's side in some of Sri Lanka's biggest moments in modern-day cricket, says that the moment he saw a 17-year-old Jayawardene bat, he knew that Jayawardene was Sri Lanka material. Sure enough, three years later, at the age of 20, Jayawardene made his international debut in a Test match against India.

And it did not take long for the right-hander to cut his teeth into international cricket. He scored three half-centuries in his first five innings and backed it up with a classy 167 in just his 4th Test match against New Zealand at Galle in 1998. The next year, he scored 242 against India to cement his spot in the Sri Lankan team.

Over a 17-year-long international career that saw him represent Sri Lanka in 149 Test matches - just one match shy of becoming the first Sri Lankan to play 150 Test matches, 448 ODIs and 55 T20Is, Jayawardene scored more than 10,000 runs in both Test cricket and one-day cricket. He is the the first Sri Lankan to reach the milestone in Tests.

In fact, he is Sri Lanka's second-highest scorer in Test cricket with 11814 runs at 49.84, just behind Kumar Sangakkara's tally of 12400. In ODIs as well, Jayawardene is the third-highest scorer for Sri Lanka with 12650 runs, behind Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya.

 

Mahela is the only batsman with centuries in both a World Cup final - against India at Mumbai in 2011 - and a semi-final - against New Zealand in 2007.  He also led Sri Lanka to the final of the 2012 World T20, where they were upstaged by West Indies. 

He made his first eight centuries at home, and this remained one of his few failings. As opposed to his average of more than 60 at home, his average in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand are all less than 35.

In 2006, Jayawardene became the second Sri Lankan after Sanath Jayasuriya to score a triple-century. The knock came in an epic third-wicket partnership of 624 with Kumar Sangakkara, the highest for any wicket in Tests. Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to Test wins in England and New Zealand, and to the World Cup final in 2007. In the 2011 World Cup, he became the sixth batsman to score a hundred in the final but the dream was only realised in 2014.

Jayawardene bid goodbye to international cricket after the 2015 ODI World Cup in which Sri Lanka was knocked out by South Africa in the quarter-finals after losing by 9 wickets. He continued playing franchise cricket and featured in the IPL regularly from 2008 to 2013, with 2010 being his best year wherein he scored 449 runs from 13 matches at an average of 43.90 and strike rate of close to 150.

Who says the Sri Lankan failed to leave a mark in white-ball cricket? In fact, he is only one of the two Sri Lankan batsmen to have a T20I century against their name, which he scored against Zimbabwe in May, 2010.

Jayawardene continues to be a sought-after coach and took Mumbai Indians to two title victories in 2017 and 2019 under his stewardship. He was appointed the head coach of Bangladesh Premier League franchise Khulna Tigers in 2017 and was recently signed by the Southampton side for the now-postponed Hundred.

 

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