Mahela Jayawardene: The greatest modern day cricketer
Technically gifted and graced with delicious timing, Mahela Jayawardene is an elegant batsman of the highest standard
Sri Lanka completed their tour of Pakistan’s adopted UAE home without one of their biggest stars. Mahela Jayawardene was not considered for the final one day international and only T20 due to a knee injury.
The right hander took the decision, along with the Sri Lankan selectors, to return home after playing with discomfort in the fourth ODI and will hope the rest will help him win the battle for fitness before a gruelling series against an imposing South African side begins. And boy will Sri Lanka need him.
Jayawardene is an elegant batsman of the highest standard. He is technically gifted, easy on the eye with his stroke making and possesses delicious timing. In the upcoming Test series against South Africa, should he be fit, he needs 46 runs to become just the sixth player in history to score 10,000 runs in Test matches and ODIs.
The feat would secure his status as one of the modern greats and deservedly puts him alongside Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis, Dravid and Lara as one of the games superstars.
Jayawardene perhaps doesn’t glean as much attention as the other players in the 10,000 club. Unlike some in that list he is very mild mannered and softly spoken on and off the pitch. “The nicest man in cricket” is a tag that is often associated to him but it does not hide the fact that he deserves his place among the record books.
In fact, his name crops up on more than occasion within those records. The sheer number he holds is simply astonishing and, I believe, makes him the greatest modern day player.
It seems that Jayawardene was destined to play a part in the history of the game from his very first test match. That special day in 1997 when Denagamage Proboth Mahela de Silva Jayawardene became his country’s 69th cap was also the match in which Sri Lanka posted the highest team total in Test match history. Mahela added 66 to the first innings score of 952/6 against India in Colombo and from then on his path as a record breaker was set.
One of the 34 year olds greatest qualities is his hunger for runs and big scores. In 1999 he became the youngest Sri Lankan to score a double century.
Seven years later Jayawardene, by now thoroughly established in the world game, shared a world record partnership for any wicket with Kumar Sangakkara as the pair added 624 for the third wicket against South Africa. Jayawardene contributed 374 of them, giving him the highest individual score by a Sri Lankan in Tests as well as the highest score by a right hander in Test history. His partnership with Sangakkara is one of the most prolific in world cricket and their 5358 runs together is the best in Sri Lankan history, fourth best in the world.
His ability to form massive partnerships with his team mates is unparalleled; he appears on the partnerships record list three times when no other player makes the list more than once. Along with his Sangakkara feat the right hander has set records for the fourth wicket (437 with Thilan Samaraweera) and the sixth wicket (351 with Prasanna Jayawardene).
The introduction of the fast paced Twenty20 format hasn’t stopped Jayawardene from setting records either. He is proof that the game isn’t just for the burly as his brand of orthodox shot making has brought him considerable success. He is currently the highest Sri Lankan run scorer in the format, needing 47 runs to reach 1000, and was the first Sri Lankan to score a T20 century.
However, it isn’t just with the bat that he has set records. Muttiah Muralitharan picked up 800 Test wickets, 77 of those were caught by Jayawardene and the pair hold the record for the most dismissals effected by a bowler and fielder partnership. His safe hands has also led him to the most catches in ODI history with 184 while he also has the most catches by a fielder in all forms of international cricket with 370.
This is all just scratching the surface; the man has World Cup records too and is a true driving force in the game. When you also factor in his astute talent as a captain it’s beyond belief that he has not been lauded more than the Pontings, Kallis’ and Tendulkars of the modern game.
Perhaps if he was on the cusp of the biggest achievement of all, 100 international hundreds, he would be.