From bits `n pieces cricketer to Master Blaster
One of the greatest success stories in Sri Lanka`s cricket history is the stellar role played by that stockily built left-handed all-rounder from Matara, SANATH JAYASURIYA, in winning the Wills World Cup for his country.
From total obscurity to world fame is the rags to riches story of this vastly talented cricketer.
When Jayasuriya entered the Wills World Cup, he was just another ordinary member of the Sri Lankan team. His name could hardly match up to such mega stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Shane Waugh and the likes.
When the tournament unfolded and the matches started to take shape, there gradually emerged a new start on the horizon, but still he did not individually make a big impact because he was not scoring hundreds like the Mark Waughs and the Tendulkars. But what had everyone talking was the swiftness with which he was gathering his runs.
The manner in which Jayasuriya began smashing the bowlers to all parts of the field especially in the first 15 overs, brought about a new dimension to batting in one-day cricket.
When his little partner Romesh Kaluwitharana also started hitting the middle, pinch-hitting was its awesome best. The two carried the scoring rate to such dizzy heights that none of the other 11 teams in the competition could match. They could only watch in awe how these two wielders of the willow accumulated runs with such rapidity.
Although Kaluwitharana could not stay long to play a big innings like his partner, two of his partnerships with Jayasuriya put the contest beyond the opposition`s sights within the first seven overs.
Who could forget the opening stand of 53 in five overs against India at the Kotla grounds in Delhi or the 83 off 40 balls against Kenya in Kandy.
Jayasuriya raised batting standards in limited overs competitions to new heights with his phenomenal stroke play. His pugna- cious hitting in the first 15 overs gave the opposing captain many nightmares, especially as the fielding side was allowed only two fielders outside the 30-yard circle.
Jayasuriya exploited the one-day rule so much that an exasperated England captain Michael Atherton said after the blitzkrieg in Faisalabad, that the one-day rules should be reviewed and changes made, if necessary.
Atherton`s beleaguered Englishmen were smashed for 82 runs off 44 balls in the quarter-finals and the forlorn England captain went to the extent of admitting that Sri Lanka used their first 15 overs as their last.
The manner in which Jayasuriya was collecting his runs, batting records in one-day competitions were in danger of being sur- passed. It was only a matter of time before they were replaced by Jayasuriya`s name in the record books.
He was within hailing distance of the fastest one-day hundred against England when he just threw it away. But less than a month later Jaysuriya did get the record when he hit a spectacular 134 off 64 balls against Pakistan in the Singer Cup one-day triangu- lar in Singapore on Monday. He completed his century off just 48 balls and whilst reaching that milestone, he also achieved two other records for the most number of sixes - 11 and, for the most number of runs in one over - 29.
When Jaysuriya was adjudged the `Most Valuable Player` in the Wills World Cup, the purists may have vetoed the choice. His two breathtaking knocks against India (79 off 76 balls) and Eng- land (82 off 44 balls) by themselves could not have made him win the award. But the wicket of Tendulkar and two more victims (Manjrekar and Jadeja) with his left-arm spin and the two catches he took to compensate for his failure with the bat at Eden Gar- dens made certain that there was really no contest for the Audi car.
In terms of runs scored, Jayasuriya`s 212 may have sounded a lit- tle weak. But considering he scored those in 161 balls and that his runs had such a dramatic effect on the opposition so as to put the fright in them, he was in a league of his own.
Mark Waugh (472 runs) and Tendulkar (458) with all those runs in the preliminary league stage still failed to make the same impact that Jayasuriya made to win the award.
"He has batted well, fielded brilliantly, and when given the ball, has come up with crucial wickets. What else can I ask of a player?`` quipped Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga when Jayasuriya won the award.
"He has been our consistent player and I am happy one of our boys got the award, he deserves it. We knew that both he and Aravinda were in contention along with Tendulkar and Mark Waugh. It`s a great achievement by Sanath,`` said Ranatunga, who could consider himself fortunate to have a utility player in the mould of Jayasuriya in his team.
The World Cup since its inception in 1975 have seen some spectac- ular batting from left-handers like Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kalli- charan and to a lesser extent New Zealand`s Mark Greatbatch in 1992. The World Cups have been generally dominated by right-hand batsmen and right-arm bowlers. Jayasuriya is the fourth left- hander to play a vital role in his side`s success.
He may not be a patch of Lloyd and Kallicharan`s batsmanship. They did not fling the bat in a predetermined manner. More impor- tantly, Lloyd packed his strokes with power and Kallicharan caressed the ball. Jayasuriya is a compulsive swinger of the bat. He lives by his wits at the crease. But that`s the way he has hammered and perhaps infuriated bowlers.
"We don`t instruct our batsmen how to go about a task. They have played enough cricket to understand situations,`` was Ranatunga`s wry comment.
Jayasuriya`s great success story is how he became a consistent unconventional opener. There has been a complete transformation in Jayasuriya since the days in which he played the negative role of firing the ball into the rough from round the wicket in Test cricket and as a mere prop in the late middle-order.
From a bits-and-pieces man who did enough to warrant a place in the one-day team, what has made Jayasuriya`s career far more re- markable is that he has adjusted so well to the task of giving bowling the charge when the ball is new, the fielders are in and the adrenalin is flowing. He is today a far more confident person who is capable of believing that he can take on the best at their own game and match, or better them, for sheer aggression. Those qualities were in full display during the Wills World Cup and, now in Singapore.
Jayasuriya came to the World Cup with 1776 runs from 98 one- dayers at an average of 19.73 - nothing exceptional for a batsman who was to prove how valuable he is to his team ahead of cricket personalities like Tendulkar and Mark Waugh. But the 71 wickets just about reflected his all-round ability. He held Sri Lanka`s record for the highest individual innings in one-day cricket - 140 and the best bowling figures - 6 for 20. However, the batting record was taken away from him by Aravinda de Silva who scored 145 against Kenya at Kandy in the Wills World Cup game.
For all his brilliant and entertaining exploits in the middle, Jayasuriya was not a specialist opener and a devastating one at that. The shift to the opener`s slot came in the Hero Cup match against Zimbabwe at Patna in 1993-4. Jayasuriya made 23, 27 and 18 in his first three games in the new position with Mahanama as his partner.
However, he held the place only temporarily because he was once again shifted lower down the order on the tours to India and Sharjah that followed. It was not until the Pakistan tour to Sri Lanka in 1994-5 that Jayasuriya gained a permanency in the open- ing slot. Three consecutive half-centuries (77, 54 and 50) in the first three games revealed his potential.
Although Zimbabwe didn`t offer him much, the following tour to South Africa for the Mandela trophy saw him make a career best 140 in a rain-ruined game against New Zealand at Bloemfontein. Jayasuriya blasted six sixes and nine fours on his way to a 144- ball innings which was his first maiden one-day century. After a quiet start he destroyed the New Zealand attack and eclipsed the previous highest score by a Sri Lankan - 121 by Roy Dias against India at Bangalore in 1982-3.
Since playing in the company of Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Michael Atherton, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shane Thomson, Chris Cairns, Mark Ram- prakash, Narendra Hirwani, Aaqib Javed, Basit Ali, Mushtaq Ahmed, Venkatapathy Raju and our own Romesh Kaluwitharana in the 1989 World Youth Cup in Australia, Jayasuriya, a product of St. Serva- tius College, Matara has come a long way.
He went to Pakistan with the Sri Lanka `B` team and displayed his potential with back to back double centuries in the unofficial Test series against Pakistan `B`. It seemed an international career was cut out for him.
But the road to attaining that had not been easy. Jayasuriya may have shed a few hairs getting there, but there is no doubt about his batting, which is hair-raising.