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Jayawardene averages 50.02 over 148 Tests, with 34 centuries. Photo: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP
Jayawardene averages 50.02 over 148 Tests, with 34 centuries. Photo: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP

Mahela Jayawardene plays his last Test today

The Sri Lankan run-machine, who retired from Twenty20 internationals in April, still hopes to compete in next year's One Day world cup

Test cricket will bid farewell to one of its most elegant stroke makers when Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene quits the longer format after the second Test against Pakistan, starting in Colombo on Thursday.

Few cricketers have exemplified the spirit of the game better than the gentlemanly 37-year-old, even though his pleasant demeanour hides nerves of steel, a calculating street-smart mind and an obsessive drive for perfection. The elegant right-hander retired from Twenty20 (T20) internationals after Sri Lanka’s title-winning campaign in the World T20 in April, but still hopes to compete in next year’s One Day world cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Jayawardene is one of only five batsmen to score more than 11,000 runs in both Test and One Day cricket; the others being Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and teammate Kumar Sangakkara. An average of 50.02 over 148 Tests, with 34 centuries illustrates his hunger for runs through a 17-year career.

Although his form outside Asia has been inconsistent, he has set a deluge of records at home. He scored a monumental 374 during a world record partnership of 624 with Sangakkara (287) against a South African attack that included Dale Steyn and Makhya Ntini on his home ground at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo in 2006. Jayawardene looked set to surpass Brian Lara’s record of 400 when he was bowled against the run of play. Together, Jayawardene and Sangakkara are likely to lead the way again in Colombo in partnership for the last time in the five-day format.

“I don’t think you can take anything away from the fact that Mahela has been one of the most elegant, most prolific batsmen not just of his generation but in the game in its entirety," says Sangakkara.

Jayawardene got a taste of big scores on his Test debut itself as a 20-year-old in 1997, when Sri Lanka piled up a world record total of 952-6 declared against India at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo. Slated to bat at No.6, the young Jayawardene saw Sanath Jayasuriya make 340, supported by Roshan Mahanama (225), before himself scoring 66.

He fit right into the One Day International (ODI) team as well, broadening his stroke play and
patiently yet quickly amassing runs in the shorter format. His fluent drives, deft cuts and fine flicks made him a popular player to watch, as he seemed to play most of his shots with the soft grip and supple hands reminiscent of batsmen of earlier eras.

Voted the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) best international captain in 2006 and the best Test player in 2007, Jayawardene was considered the ideal team man and frequently guided Sri Lanka out of trouble in games. He has also been a fine fielder, with more than 200 catches in Tests and ODIs. Many were off the bowling of spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, Test cricket’s most prolific bowler with 800 wickets.

Muralitharan considers Jayawardene among the best players that Sri Lanka has ever produced.

“He is one of the greatest to have played for Sri Lanka. He is in that group with Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya, who have all contributed so much to Sri Lankan cricket," he says.

Jayawardene’s long quest for an ICC world title ended when Sri Lanka won the World T20 earlier this year in Bangladesh after two previous final appearances. But the coveted world cup title has so far evaded Jayawardene, who made his international debut the year after Sri Lanka won the prestigious tournament for the only time. He has been part of two teams that lost the final. Jayawardene was the captain when Sri Lanka lost to Australia in fading light in the West Indies in 2007, and in 2011 he was again on the losing side, against India, despite scoring a century himself. And that’s his biggest motivation to continue playing in the limited-overs format, at least until March.

Jayawardene will devote the next six months to One Day cricket, with the aim of breaking his personal drought when the world cup is held in Australia and New Zealand early in 2015.

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