By Anand Vasu in Chittagong
“Twenty20 allowed me to bat like I used to when I was a schoolboy, for the sheer love of playing attacking shots,” he says
Shortly after making the announcement through the International Cricket Council’s Twitter Mirror campaign, in which players have been posting photographic messages directly to their fans through the social networking website, Jayawardena spoke to Wisden India. “The rationale is pretty much the same as Sanga’s. When it is clear that I can’t see myself playing in the next ICC World T20, there wasn’t much point in me occupying a spot,” said Jayawardena. “It makes more sense for a youngster to come into the mix and establish himself.”
Jayawardena’s announcement came through a photo with Sangakkara that bore the message: “Last World T20, let’s make it count,” signed by the two players.
That the announcement came on March 17, exactly 18 years to the day Sri Lanka won the World Cup, beating Australia by seven wickets in Lahore, was not lost on Jayawardena. “That was a big day for Sri Lankan cricket and no one at home will ever forget it. Every year we look back on that date with joy,” said Jayawardena. “Hopefully we can do something special here in this tournament as well. We always come into big tournaments such as this one with a view to showing the world what Sri Lanka is capable of. We take great pride in our performances and it’s no different here in Bangladesh.”
Jayawardena’s place in the history of Sri Lankan cricket is secure, thanks mainly to his achievements in Test and 50-over cricket. In 143 Test matches Jayawardene has scored 11319 runs at an average of over 50, his highest score being a mammoth 374 against South Africa at his beloved Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo in 2007. Jayawardena also topped 10000 runs in One-Day Internationals, proving that there was room for aesthetically pleasing and wristy batsmen who relied on timing rather than brute musculature.
In T20 Internationals, Jayawardena has shown a remarkable ability to innovate, tasting most of his success opening the batting. His 1335 runs — he’s Sri Lanka’s highest run-getter in the shortest format of the game — have come from 49 matches at a strike rate of 134.17, the second highest among all batsmen from his country who have batted in at least 25 innings. He is one of two Sri Lankans, along with Tillakaratne Dilshan, to have scored a century in the format.
Jayawardena also led Sri Lanka in 19 T20I games, and was at the helm of affairs when they qualified for the finals of the 2012 World T20 in Colombo, which they lost to West Indies by 36 runs. He won 12 matches as captain and was involved in one tie.
“While I enjoy all formats of the game, and Test cricket is certainly the pinnacle for any player, the journey in Twenty20 cricket has been fascinating,” said Jayawardena. “In many ways it helped me get back to my roots, to bat like I used to when I was a schoolboy, for the sheer love of playing attacking shots and expressing myself with full freedom.”
Jayawardena is expected to play a major part in Sri Lanka’s campaign in Bangladesh, where a steady hand would help calm the nerves of both the team and the fans. Till the team departed from Colombo there was a cloud over how the campaign would unfold thanks to a stand-off between the players and Sri Lanka Cricket over the signing of contracts. “There are some things beyond our control, and these things happen in professional sport. You have to take it in your stride,” said Jayawardene. “Now that we are here in Bangladesh, we are not thinking about those off-field events. As cricketers, we just want to go out there, do our best, and win matches for our team and country.”