One of the relief teachers in a seventh-grade class asked a bunch of students to scrawl about their favorite personality and all the kids wrote about their parents, except one who went full nerdy for one and a half pages (that’s a lot if you are only 12) about his favorite cricketer. When he was asked why he hadn’t done the same as his friends, he replied that he couldn’t choose one between Ámma’ and ‘Thaththa’, so he picked another personality. Actually, he lied.
The kid is irrelevant but the cricketer is not; the guy who turned ODI cricket on its head Sanath Teran Jayasuriya. On this 30th June, this great cricketer steps on to his Golden Jubilee and of course we have to make a noise about it.
Okay, let’s strut down the memory lane. What are your memories on Sri Lanka- India battles in the early 2000s? It’s unlike nowadays where India is superior to Sri Lankan’s skill play. Most probably you’ll remember Sri Lanka winning, a raised Kookaburra bat, a bald-headed figure and Popeye-like forearms.
Jayasuriya used to torment Indian bowling attacks as one could only do against their 5-year old younger siblings on the house backyard. We all know what happened to Manoj Prabakar in Delhi after bowling only 4 overs in 1996. Jayasuriya ended up with 7 Centuries (& 14 Half centuries) versus India in ODIs which is the highest ODI tons by a Sri Lankan against one team and highest tons vs India by a player.
“Sanath Jayasuriya” wasn’t just a player, he was almost a feeling among the islanders. When he walked into the middle while arranging his pads time to time on his way, everyone was glued to the television as their life depended on it. Fans wanted to watch him bat, but it was such a headache, worrying about him getting dismissed in each play. We gasped every time he made the ball travel in the air and sighed a great relief after it bounced on to the ground. But after he was out, the weight on our heads was gone, the match even turning a tad dull after that.
When he was caught on the boundary, we wished the ball would go over the rope when the catcher tried to celebrate by popping it into the air, or the bowler would overstep. In Test Cricket, there were times we wished Sri Lanka team would collapse cheaply and follow-on as we couldn’t wait another day to watch Jayasuriya bat again. We were childish and greedy but wanted to watch him bat all day. Can you blame us?
If you saw those electrifying cuts, lofted stand-still drives and effortless pick-ups into the stands, you would have fallen in love too. He changed the way ODIs were played and inspired a nation through his brutal stroke-play, and we were addicted.
There were kids in each street who tried to slash the bat to cut without their foot touching the ground, but couldn’t generate enough power to manufacture those strokes. They frowned upon those who imitated Jayasuriya’s stance, his glance but wanted to mimic the left-hander at every chance.
We were overjoyed when he played that 189, remember? He counter-punched the Indian bowling after 4 early losses and propelled Sri Lanka to 299. When Sourav Ganguly bowled that wide one we all shed a tear through Tony Greig’s screams. – “There are Indians, there are Arabs, there are Sri Lankans and Englishmen, everyone on their feet, cheering this man off”, Agony and ecstasy hit us at once in full throttle that day.
How many of you let out shouts and ungodly words at Kumar Sangakkara when he bumped into Jayasuriya midway on the pitch at Adelaide when Jayasuriya was on 99, how many of you yelled at Kumar Dharmasena for raising that deadly finger at Khettarama when Jayasuriya was on 98 in his comeback innings? We couldn’t be critical at Jayasuriya for making mistakes because the love was too thick, but there were times we passed that anger through others.
Sometimes, we wouldn’t remember a century of a player, but the heroic innings by them will be a certainty. Jayasuriya’s 43* versus India at Dambulla is one of the memorable innings as much as his scything innings of 152 at Headingley where he thrashed the living daylights out of Englishmen. Jayasuriya battled through the pain with an injured shoulder and took Sri Lanka home at the end.
You could always appreciate those 13000+ runs and 300+ wickets, his 28 ODI centuries and the fact that 24 of them produced victories for Sri Lanka. But all these statistical records are minuscule to the way how “The Jayasuriya Emotion” affected on Sri Lankans. He played the brand of Cricket which Sri Lankans are supposed to play. He gave us hope. He contributed for a World Cup win. He made us all proud Sri Lankans!
After his retirement, he may have lost some dignity through some rambunctious escapades but the love for the Master Blaster will never find a dent in a Sri Lankans heart.
Happy Birthday Legend, Congratulations on your cracking half-century, and we miss you in the field!