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Sanath Jayasuriya: The catalyst behind Sri Lanka's rise

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Last updated on 30 Jun 2023 | 10:42 AM
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Sanath Jayasuriya: The catalyst behind Sri Lanka's rise

Born in Matara, Southern Sri Lanka, on June 30, 1969, the all-rounder would go on to redefine ODI cricket

The repertoire of the Sri Lanka cricket team was that of a mere participant before the sub-continent side turned heads with their blistering run to the title during the 1996 World Cup. Standing at the core of their success was opener cum all-rounder Sanath Jayasuriya, born on June 30, 1969, in the Southern Sri Lankan city of Matara.

The Southpaw had a slow start to his cricket career upon debuting in an ODI on December 26, 1989, where he failed to cross the average of 30 for the next six years. However, 1996 was a breakout year for the Lankans, and things started falling into place for Jayasuriya as well.

While New Zealand's Mark Greatbatch got attention for exploiting the field restrictions in the first 15 overs in white ball cricket during the 1992 World Cup, it was Jayasuriya's mayhem alongside Romesh Kaluwitharana that lit up the 1996 World Cup and consequently redefined ODI cricket.

Facing England, Jayasuriya had scored the fastest fifty in the World Cup in just 30 balls before going on to score 82 runs in just 44 balls in that match. What set Jayasuriya apart was his ability to combine power-hitting with a touch of finesse. He redefined the role of an opener, showing that aggression could be the key to success in limited-overs cricket. His innovative stroke play, particularly his mastery of the lofted shots, made him a nightmare for bowlers worldwide.

Jayasuriya's reinvented batting under the guidance of coach Dav Whatmore saw Sri Lanka clinch their maiden World Cup title, with the former scoring 221 runs and claiming seven wickets to win the prestigious Man of the Tournament award. A watershed moment for Sri Lanka cricket; this laid the foundation for young players to aspire. Today, Sri Lanka has three ICC titles - ODI World Cup 1996, ICC Champions Trophy 2002, and T20 World Cup 2014.

The 1996 World Cup was just Jayasuriya's arrival on the international stage as the all-rounder would dominate world cricket for years. He had followed the World Cup win by smashing a 48-ball-100 (the fastest ODI century back then) and the fastest ODI fifty (17 balls) at a cup in Singapore.

Jayasuriya was also a terrific left-arm spinner, taking wickets at crucial junctures and adding depth to the Sri Lankan bowling attack in limited overs. He would eventually retire with 322 ODI wickets and four 5-wicket hauls. All this had the world pegging him as an ODI specialist but Jayasuriya would whack an unbelievable 340 runs against India in a 1997 Test match and a flashy 213 against England at the Oval to prove his critics wrong.

He had quickly become an invaluable asset to the Sri Lanka team and was made the side captain in 1999. But captaincy didn’t suit the volcanic batsman. Although his leadership brought unity to the side, his dip in batting form became a concern. Sri Lanka lost to Australia in the 2003 ODI World Cup semi-finals, and Jayasuriya would relinquish his captaincy that year.

After a productive Test season in 2004, where Jayaasuriya averaged 56.50, the batsman struggled for form and eventually retired from the format in 2007 to focus on white ball cricket. And he kept his word by producing a scintillating display at the T20I World Cup that year.

Jayasuriya would end that World Cup with 154 runs, including two half-centuries. It was as if the batsman had found his footing back in the game's newest format. Playing for Mumbai Indians, Jayasuriya would amass 518 runs in 2008 and carry his form into Asia Cup to end as the highest run-scorer (378) with an average of 75.60 to help Sri Lanka lift the title.

The emergence of promising opener Upul Tharanga eventually forced Jayasuriya to take a backseat, and although he was in the squad for the 2011 World Cup, his tired legs couldn't continue. Widely believed to be the best ODI cricketer Sri Lanka has ever produced, the Matara Mauler would eventually retire from ODI cricket in 2011 with over 13,000 runs at a striker rate of 90.

His influence, however, went beyond his playing career. Post-retirement, Jayasuriya forayed into cricket administration to become the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Cricket Selection Committee. He was also inducted into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame in 2019.

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