When thinking of Sanath Jayasuriya’s Test career, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that it was underwhelming compared to his performance in limited overs cricket. This however wouldn’t be a surprise since his technique was unorthodox and it’s rare to see someone with an unorthodox technique prosper in red ball cricket.
Free hit contributor – Aravinthan Arunthavanathan
The double century at the Oval in 1998 and the triple against India in 1997 are a few that come to the top of the mind. Apart from these there is an incredibly special knock which is often forgotten by cricket fans. It was a heroic knock which paved way for a significant Test win away from home at a critical point in his career.
The most challenging period in any cricketer’s career is the immediate aftermath after the relinquishing of the captaincy as was the case for Jayasuriya in the 2003/04 season. With the reigns handed over to his long-standing deputy Marvan Atapattu, runs started to dry up in Sanath’s terrain. Questions were being asked of his presence in the red ball line up. Despite an almost match winning 131 against a top-notch Aussie attack at Asgiriya and a 157 against a depleted Zimbabwe in 2004, Sanath’s red ball returns remained mediocre. Poor returns in the series against Australia away and Proteas at home were raising eyebrows. With the management backing him to the core, it was high time Sanath rewarded the faith placed on him. At around 35 years of age it was challenging to say the least. It was in this backdrop that Sanath took wing to Pakistan in the latter part of 2004.
The first Test in a two-match series is always of utmost importance. In this game at Faisalabad, going into the second innings, Sri Lanka were trailing by 21 runs. Facing a rampant Shoaib Akthar and Mohammed Sami who had taken nine wickets between them in the first innings, the Lankan skipper Marvan was back in the hut in the first over itself for a duck. The pressure was mounting and if there was a moment for Sanath to stand up and deliver this was it. With Akthar and Sami in good rhythm with a more than efficient Danish Kaneria leading the spin department, Sananth’s chances of succeeding were in the balance. As the saying goes ” when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and Sanath got going. Sanath stitched meaningful partnerships with Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, propelling the lead to 280 plus.
In the immediate aftermath of Marvan’s wicket, Sanath mounted a counter punch, flicking, cutting and driving the Pakistani opening bowlers, notching up the team fifty at almost a run a ball. When the Pakistanis turned to the spin of Kaneria, Sanath did not show any signs of discomfort. He dominated Kaneria by scoring freely from point to square leg, executing cuts, square drives and slog sweeps effortlessly. The dominance over Kaneria was signified in style when Sanath smacked a lofted on drive with ease to reach his three figures in style. The striking feature of this knock was the ease with which Sanath saw off Shoaib Akthar in his initial spells and then treated him harshly with aggressive backfoot play, cutting, hooking and pulling in his latter spells as the tearaway paceman lost steam.
When the 8th wicket fell, the Lankan lead was a healthy 316, challenging but not beyond the reach of a strong Pakistani line up. It was at this point that Sanath unleashed his magic, repaying the faith the selectors had placed in him. Sanath single handedly added 101 runs for the 9th wicket with Dilhara Fernando, where the latter contributed a grand total of one run. During this phase Sanath’s dominance left the Pakistanis with no answer. A distraught Shoaib squatting on the turf until someone had to place his hat on his head after the completion of an over was a moment which symbolized the state of affairs in the game. It was quote appropriate that Sanath reached his double with a pull over square leg fetching him a six off Shoaib Akthar. This was followed by a twenty run over again off Shoaib and consecutive sixes off Malik over midwicket which left the Pakistani skipper Inzamam in a state of helplessness. After decimating the Pakistani attack, when Sanath finally missed a full Kaneria delivery and was adjudged LBW by Bucknor, he had not only amassed an amazing 253 but had put Sri Lanka well and truly in the box seat. The Pakistanis could not recover from the onslaught and succumbed to a heavy 201 run defeat handing the Lankans a 1-0 lead.
It was an innings which not only set up an away win for Sri Lanka but also left a reminder to the cricketing world what the master blaster was capable of even towards what seemed to be the twilight of his colourful career. It would also turn out to be his penultimate test century. The final was to follow in the next test in Karachi.
There were many other monumental knocks Sanath has played in all formats, but this knock played in a quiet corner of Pakistan in a low profile series against a high quality opposition should always be given it’s due place in Lankan cricketing folklore.
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