Many play the game, some excel at it, a few become legendary but only a handful are immortalized and will be remembered as the ones who revolutionized the game. One of Sri Lanka’s greatest, Sanath Jayasuriya is one of them.
During his career, the southpaw piled up more than 21,000 international runs and led Sri Lanka to many memorable milestones, the Asia Test championship, ICC Champions Trophy co-winners and maiden Test series win against Australia and West Indies are among them.
On his 51st Birthday, this is a celebration of a few of those memories from his legendary career.
112 vs Australia | 1996 at Adelaide
The year 1996 was an extraordinary year for Sri Lanka Cricket, especially for one of its most loved sons, Sanath Jayasuriya.
He smashed the fastest 50, fastest century, was awarded the player of the tournament in World Cup and won the World Cup, all in 1996. But the year began with another beautiful moment in this gifted player’s career.
Jayasuriya’s first Test century was made in January 1996 at the Adelaide Oval against the mighty Aussie attack that included Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Chasing 401 to win, Sri Lanka were in a commanding position in the 4th innings to secure a draw thanks to Jayasuriya’s brilliant effort, but soon after his dismissal the team surrendered meekly. Jayasuriya has only scored 2 tons in the 4th innings of a Test and the next one also came against Australia in 2004.
“Look mate, if you do not hit the correct areas; he makes you look like a schoolboy” – Glenn McGrath
340 vs India | 1997 at R. Premadasa
This innings just doesn’t need any introduction. It was like ‘Awurudu’ had come early; Sanath Jayasuriya batting for two & half days against India in 1997. That’s as close to perfect as life could be.
While putting together this colossal innings, Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama managed to set a new World Record for the highest partnership in Test Cricket which was broken later by another Sri Lankan duo.
While being under pressure as an opening batsman, Jayasuriya produced this gem of an innings and went on to make 199 in the next match too. If you had any doubts about the class of the player, here’s what Sachin Tendulkar had to say about that innings.
“I have not seen Don Bradman bat, but I have seen Sanath Jayasuriya. I have not seen a better batsman in my cricketing career” – Sachin Tendulkar
253 vs Pakistan | 2004 at Faisalabad
One of the most underrated innings in Sanath Jayasuriya’s career materialized in Faisalabad when Sri Lanka recorded an unlikely win against Pakistan in 2004.
Jayasuriya tormented the Shoaib Akthar led bowling attack on his way to his third double-hundred, a ferocious 253, and almost single-handedly created a chance of a Sri Lankan win. For the 9th wicket, Jayasuriya and Dilhara Fernando built a partnership of 101 runs with Fernando adding only 1 run.
According to renowned Cricket statistician Anantha Narayanan’s Golden Willow Rankings, this innings is ranked as the 3rd best innings in Test history.
213 vs England | 1998 at The Oval
If Aravinda de Silva’s knockout performances in 1996 revolutionized Sri Lanka Cricket’s ODI history, this innings (accompanied with a certain off-spinner’s 16 wicket haul) almost had the same impact in forcing world cricket to take Sri Lanka seriously in Test Cricket.
Taking on the Englishmen’s 445 target in the first innings, the Sri Lankans still searched for a win even though the odds were against them. Enter Sanath Jayasuriya.
The opener’s blazing 213 off just 278 balls paved the way for a 146-run lead which ultimately helped them beat time and the host.
Sanath Jayasuriya, both feet off the ground, cutting English seamer Angus Fraser for a six over point in the chase of 36 in the 4th innings of this Test, is still an iconic image in Sri Lankan cricket history.
152 vs England | 2006 at Leeds
After being dropped from the previous ODI series vs Pakistan due to bad form, Sanath Jayasuriya was suddenly called up for the Sri Lanka tour of England in 2006.
In his comeback, the veteran repaid the confidence which the Selection committee had laid upon him, making 2 centuries and being named Player of the Series.
This golden innings was manufactured in the 5th ODI where Sri Lanka had to chase 322 to complete the whitewash. Jayasuriya’s 99-ball 152 was then the fastest 150 in ODI history before it was broken 7 years later.
In this innings, Jayasuriya also partnered up with Upul Tharanga for a huge opening partnership of 286 runs which was the highest 1st wicket partnership at that time.
“Others may have had better records, but few were more dangerous. It is always a massive compliment to someone to say they changed the game, and his storming innings in the 1996 World Cup changed everyone’s thinking about how to start one-day innings. (He has) great natural flair,” – Glenn McGrath
134 vs Pakistan | 1996 in Singapore
Just look at the facts.
– 65 balls
– Way back in 1996.
– Against a Waqar Younis led bowling attack
This innings renewed the record for the fastest century in ODIs and the highest number of 6s by a player in an ODI innings.
“He was one of the few batsmen to hit me for quite a few sixes. He was very dangerous” – Wasim Akram
125 vs India | 2008 at Karachi
Sanath Jayasuriya is known for his memorable innings in tournament finals. His last such performance was played in the 2008 Asia Cup final at Karachi vs India.
After the early wickets, Sri Lanka were reduced to 4/66 but the 39-year-old Jayasuriya launched a counter-attack against India with a 114-ball 125, leading Sri Lanka to 273.
The total proved to be more than enough with the fireworks by Ajantha Mendis as Sri Lanka won their 4th Asia Cup title.
84 vs England | 1996 at Faisalabad
In Sri Lanka’s In Sri Lanka’s first ever knockout game in a World Cup, it was Sanath Jayasuriya who calmed the Sri Lankan dressing room’s nerves while making everyone who was watching nervous.
His aggressive approach earned him 82 off 44 balls, cutting down the deficit by a sizable margin with more than enough overs left.
This innings is perhaps as important as Aravinda de Silva’s golden innings from the semifinal and final as this one cleared the way for Sri Lanka, ensuring no hiccups in the quarterfinal.
189 vs India | 2000 at Sharjah
Sanath Jayasuriya and tournament finals against India were always a perfect combination. Arguably, his best ODI innings was witnessed in another tournament final; the Coca-Cola Champions Trophy in Sharjah against India.
The score 189 still remains the highest ODI score by a Sri Lankan and 2nd highest ODI score against India.
His 161-ball innings included 21 fours and 4 sixes and it ensured the biggest win for Sri Lanka against India, by 245 runs.
“How I wish I was not playing in this match, bowling to Jayasuriya I only think of how many runs I’d go for”. – Venketesh Prasad
81 vs West Indies | 2009 at Nottingham
Nearing 40 when T20 Cricket got going, Jayasuriya still enjoyed batting against one of his favourite oppositions in the 2009 ICC World T20.
A 47-ball 81, accompanied by TM Dilshan at the other end ensured a Sri Lanka win at Nottingham.
The 124-run partnership with TM Dilshan still stands as the highest opening partnership for Sri Lanka in T20Is.
88 vs Kenya | 2007 at Johannesburg
In the inaugural edition of the ICC World T20, when others are experimenting with the fairly new format, Sanath Jayasuriya just batted the way he usually does and guided Sri Lanka to the then highest T20I total: 260 vs Kenya.
His 88 runs only cost 44 balls as he etched his name in history as the highest scorer of each highest total across formats (340/952 – Test, 157/443 – ODI, 88/260 – T20I)
“The whole dressing room would be in silence after his dismissal. He created an atmosphere in which you feel that if he is with us, you’re invincible” – Kumar Sangakkara