The beginning and the (seeming) end of the great career of Sanath Jayasuriya has tremendous symmetry to it. He began as a bowling all-rounder for Sri Lanka considered initially for the short format of the game, the ODIs. Now, as the sun sets on his cricketing career, he is again, in the short(est) format of the game for his country, primarily as a bowler, and comes way down the order. In fact, in the last couple of games for Sri Lanka at the T20 world cup, he has actually come in at number 8.
In his debut international match, Jayasuriya did not even get to bowl. He made a very insignificant 3 off 5 balls and Sri Lanka lost chasing a very moderate 229. This was no harbinger of the things to come in the mid-1990’s where he wreaked havoc on a cricket field. He made his ODI debut in 1989 (same year as the other leading luminary cricketer of this generation, Sachin Tendulkar) and his test debut in 1991. His career was going nowhere till Arjuna Ranatunga (the fore runner to Sourav Ganguly in terms of abrasive sub-continental captains who galvanized their respective teams and changed the way their teams were perceived by their opponents), transformed the fortunes of Sanath and in doing so, that of Sri Lanka.
In 1993, Arjuna pushed the little known Sanath up the batting order during the Sharjah tournament where he scored back to back fifties. Soon, he was making headlines with his aggressive and explosive batting opening the batting for Sri Lanka. The 1996 world cup, Jayasuriya put on a show for the world to see in the company of the little Kaluwathirana. The way they went about their business, utilizing the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs of an ODI, changed the way the game was played, forever and brought the world cup to Sri Lanka.
There was no stopping Jayasuriya after that. He brought the same aggressive approach to opening batting in test matches as well and scored runs by the mountains. As always, he complemented his run making with his smart left-arm off spin and agile fielding. During a stretch, he WAS the most destructive batsman in the world topping the charts in tests and ODIs, setting world records for fastest fifty, century and plundering India for 340 runs in a test match. As with all great athletes, age -the enemy that always lurks around the corner- caught up to him.
Towards the second half of the oughts (2000’s), the Sri Lankan cricket board also did not manage his situation well. They were not sure what to do with this enormously gifted cricketer. The SL board wanted to move towards a youth centric team, with the reigns in the hands of Mahela Jayawardene and then, Kumar Sangakkara. So, initially, they dropped Jayasuriya from the test team, only to reinstate him on the back of public protests in Sri Lanka. Later on, he announced his retirement from all formats of the game, only to be cajoled by the country’s president to come back and play ODIs and T20s. He signed with the Mumbai Indians of the IPL in 2007 and showed no signs of slowing down, even though he was not playing the top flight of the game.
However, 2009-10 has brought the rude message home for Jayasuriya. He dabbled a little in politics and even tried his hand at commentary. He was not good at either. So, he went back to what he thought was his sanctuary. This meant, he had to accept whatever role the team management (Mumbai/Sri Lanka) made out for him. This is a man, whose very sight at the crease, holding a bat, with those lightning quick square cuts aided by his piston-like forearms, made grown men shiver in their boots. Now, he is being pushed down the order, played as a part-time bowler. In the 2010 IPL, after a couple of scratchy innings, he wasn’t considered for the starting 11. The great Matara Marauder couldn’t out duel some of the younger ones for a starting spot.
He is now in the SL squad for the T20 world cup 2010, and its almost sad to see him come in at number 8, after the likes of Chandimal and Kapugadera who can’t even hold a candle to what he has accomplished for himself and his country. Its a shame, really, to see him get devalued like this, but yet he soldiers on. As the song by Elton John from the movie Lion King goes,
Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars
In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life