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Cricket World Cup history: Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's game-changer

402   //    27 Jun 2019, 22:22 IST

Sanath Jayasuriya
Sanath Jayasuriya

For years Sanath Jayasuriya languished in the lower middle-order. He was mistaken as a utility man meant to wheel his left arm over. He would deliver flat spinners that bothered few international batsmen.

Then during the 1995-96 tour to Australia, that canny Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga sent him out to open the innings, and take along the diminutive stumper Romesh Kaluwitharana for company.

That was the watershed moment in Jayasuriya’s career. A swashbuckling opener was born overnight, and the left-arm spin became only incidental.

Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana reinvented the concept of hitting over the top of the infield in the first 15 overs of one-day matches, pioneered by New Zealand’s Mark Greatbatch in the 1992 World Cup. The Sri Lankan duo carried this forward in the 1996 edition, and Jayasuriya never looked back from there.   

Jayasuriya’s only performance of note in the 1992 World Cup was a knock of 32 off 23 balls with 2 fours and 2 sixes in a vital 45-run fifth-wicket partnership with Ranatunga. Sri Lanka went on to beat Zimbabwe in their first fixture, posting the highest score batting second in the premier event.

In 1996, it was a different story. There was a period in the middle of the tournament when Jayasuriya was brilliant. After the two matches forfeited by Australia and the West Indies, and the easy win over Zimbabwe, India racked up 271 for three. In reply, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana raised 53 in five overs.

Asanka Gurusinha came in, and by the 15th over the score had mounted to 119. The second-wicket stand realised 76 runs. Jayasuriya hammered 79 off 76 balls, smashing 9 fours and 2 sixes. He made the task very easy for the batsmen who followed, walking away with the man-of-the-match prize.  

There was a run-riot by the irrepressible Sri Lankans who piled up a World Cup record total of 398 for five against the hapless Kenyans. Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana sped to a whirlwind 50 off 20 deliveries. They blasted 83 off 40 deliveries in their exhilarating opening stand.

Jayasuriya hit up 44 off 27 balls, rocketing 3 sixes and 5 fours. That was the platform on which the mammoth total was built. 


Next, Jayasuriya made the quarter-final his own. English captain Michael Atherton’s ploy of opening the bowling with spinner Richard Illingworth seemed to work initially as he castled Kaluwitharana. But Jayasuriya hit four successive boundaries as a counter to the plan.

He then slammed a Philip DeFreitas over for 22 runs, including 2 fours and 2 sixes, equalling the record for the fastest World Cup fifty off 30 balls. He was racing along when he was stumped by Jack Russell off Dermot Reeve for 82 off just 44 deliveries, having slammed 13 fours and 3 sixes.

Gurusinha was, for the most part, a bystander in a second-wicket stand of 101. Jayasuriya was man-of-the-match again.  

Having been dismissed early in the semi-final, Jayasuriya struck with the ball. He broke an ominous-looking stand between Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar, removing both. As the Indian batting began folding, Jayasuriya sent back Ajay Jadeja for a duck.

He took three for 12 off 7 overs before an unruly section of the crowd brought the match to a premature end.

Jayasuriya played only a bit part in the final, taking two catches to dismiss the Australian openers and claiming a wicket before being run out for 9. But he had done enough to win the Audi car as his player-of-the-tournament award.

Jayasuriya’s blitzkrieg at the top of the order had electrified the event as his jubilant team lifted the Cup.

The conditions in England in 1999 did not suit Jayasuriya’s attacking batsmanship or his one-dimensional spin bowling. Nor was his team at the top of its form.

He played just one innings of note, scoring 39 in a brisk opening stand of 72 with Roshan Mahanama as the defending champions salvaged some pride with a win over Kenya in the last pool match. 

The team went through much churning in the interim before the 2003 World Cup. Ranatunga had gone, Aravinda de Silva had come back for a last hurrah and Jayasuriya was at the helm.

His first match as captain in the premier tournament was memorable. The New Zealand bowlers kept him quiet initially, but he cut loose once he reached fifty. He drove Andre Adams for three boundaries through the covers in the same over.

Jayasuriya blazed his way to his first century in the World Cup and 16th overall in One-dayers. His 170-run stand with Hashan Tillekeratne was Sri Lanka’s best for the second wicket in the World Cup, surpassing his 101-run stand with Gurusinha in the 1996 quarter-final.

Jayasuriya slammed 120 off 125 balls with 14 boundaries, helping his side pile up 272 for seven. It was enough to register an easy win despite some late pyrotechnics by Scott Styris. Jayasuriya earned his third man-of-the-match award in the World Cup.

Bangladesh were trounced by 10 wickets, Jayasuriya scoring an unbeaten 55 off 57 balls with 7 fours and a six. Canada were skittled out for 36, the lowest total ever in the World Cup.

But Sri Lanka ran into trouble at the hands of Kenyan leg-spinner Collins Obuya, suffering an embarrassing defeat. With Kenya now emerging as contenders, the face-off with the West Indies became crucial for both teams in the race to the super-six.

On a wicket that offered encouragement to the bowlers, Jayasuriya gritted it out. Hashan Tillekeratne was his ally in a second-wicket stand of 85. Jayasuriya scored 66 off 99 balls with 4 boundaries, helping his side post 228 for six.

West Indies made a valiant effort under the Newlands lights but finished six runs short. Sri Lanka could heave a sigh of relief.

South African supporters cheered the Sri Lankans for beating the West Indies, for it ensured that their team stayed in the hunt. In the last pool match, the Proteas had to beat the very same Lankan team in order to advance.

The elements contrived to tie the game, Jayasuriya picking up the wickets of Jacques Kallis and Boeta Dippenaar. 

The Aussies were an awesome outfit in this tournament. They gave Sri Lanka no chance in their super-six encounter. Jayasuriya was hit by a nasty lifter from Brett Lee, chipping a bone in his left thumb, adding injury to the humiliating defeat.

Fortunately, the blow was not serious enough to keep him out of the remaining matches. India were the other team in form, and Sri Lanka were beaten again. 

They were, however, able to overcome Zimbabwe easily, making their way into the semi-finals. Jayasuriya captured three for 30 off 6 overs.

The semi-final against Australia was a daunting prospect. The Port Elizabeth wicket had caused batsmen much worry in the tournament and again the Aussie top-order floundered. But Andrew Symonds hit a brilliant unbeaten 91 to carry the side past the 200 mark.

Jayasuriya broke Darren Lehmann’s 93-run fourth-wicket stand with Symonds, and then dismissed Michael Bevan first ball. But Sri Lanka were never in the match thereafter, and rain put a slightly premature end to their campaign.

This was, nevertheless, their best World Cup thus far apart from the sensational 1996 title triumph. Jayasuriya led from the front and had a few personal highs too. In the latter half he did not perform well with the bat but chipped in with the ball.

Under the circumstances it would have been a satisfying tournament for him as Sri Lanka were certainly the third-best side. He relinquished the captaincy thereafter, the pressure getting even to one of the most mild-mannered stars in the game. 

There was a soft opening to the 2007 campaign with an easy victory over Bermuda, without a substantial contribution from Jayasuriya. He then played a superb innings against Bangladesh, racing to his fifty off 43 balls, having already clouted Syed Rasel and Abdur Razzak for 2 sixes each, besides four other boundaries.

His opening stand with Upul Tharanga was worth 98 in 14.2 overs. Rain intervened and shortly after resumption Jayasuriya twisted his knee, retiring hurt at 83, having faced 77 deliveries so far.

He returned to the crease at the fall of the third wicket. He took to Razzak again, slamming him for a six over square-leg to enter his 90s, and then another in his next over to raise his hundred off 85 balls. As if to celebrate he lofted the next delivery over mid-wicket for his 7th six.

The bowler, though, had his revenge immediately as Jayasuriya reverse-swept into the hands of short fine-leg. His innings of 109 included 7 fours as well, and it won him the man-of-the-match award as Sri Lanka coasted to an easy win.   

India were under pressure to win but though Jayasuriya fell cheaply, his side registered an easy victory. Jayasuriya scored a quick 26 off 27 deliveries with 4 boundaries in the super-eight thriller that South Africa clinched by one wicket.

Then followed a brilliant all-round performance against hosts West Indies. He raised his half-century off 47 deliveries, and put on 183 for the third wicket with skipper Mahela Jayawardene in 30 overs. His hundred came off 86 balls.

Jayasuriya finally fell for 115, having faced 101 deliveries and crashed 10 fours and 4 sixes. Sri Lanka topped the 300-run mark, and with the Caribbean side struggling, Jayasuriya bagged three wickets for 38 runs in 8.3 overs to complete a thorough demolition job. He wrested his second man-of-the-match prize of the tournament.

It was now Sri Lanka’s turn to pull off a two-run last-ball win over England. Jayasuriya played another cameo of 25 off 26 balls with four boundaries and one strike over the ropes. 

New Zealand posted 219 for seven in a vital face-off. Jayasuriya added a round 100 for the second wicket with Sangakkara in just under 21 overs. When he was dismissed for 64, his team was well on the way to a comfortable win. He hit 5 fours and a six in his 80-ball knock.

The invincible Aussies duly crushed Sri Lanka, and Jayasuriya fell leg-before-wicket to Nathan Bracken just when he was beginning to fire. In sharp contrast, the Irish were hardly in a position to stretch the Lankans, who were safely through to the semi-finals. 

Though Jayasuriya fell cheaply, Sri Lanka piled up 289 for five. The Kiwis were hardly ever in the game thereafter, and Jayasuriya bagged two valuable wickets for 57 runs off 9 overs.

Adam Gilchrist’s blitzkrieg more or less clinched the final but the Lankans were in the game as long as Jayasuriya was at the crease. He brought up his fifty off 51 deliveries, putting on 116 with Sangakkara in 17.4 overs. His dismissal for 63 began the downward slide, the 67-ball knock comprising 9 hits to the fence.

It was a fine World Cup for Jayasuriya in which he registered his best aggregate of 467 and average of 46.70 at a blistering strike-rate of 98.31. He played some scintillating innings and showed that the power and strokeplay, which for long had been his hallmarks, were still intact.

His team too acquitted itself most creditably, being second-best only to the awe-inspiring Aussies.

Jayasuriya was then the fourth-highest run-getter in the World Cup with 1165 runs at a brilliant strike-rate of 90.66. In all ODIs, he had the second-highest aggregate with 13,428 runs, only behind the peerless Sachin Tendulkar, and at a strike-rate of more than 91 runs per 100 balls.

The name Sanath Jayasuriya is synonymous with scintillating strokeplay. There was no flourish associated with his shots. His steely wrists and powerful forearms ensured that the ball streaked to the boundary or sailed over it with effortless ease.

He had a tight defence too, enabling him to see off stormy periods when the ball was darting about.

Jayasuriya came a long way from his early days as an anonymous bit-and-pieces player. He has been one of the most destructive batsmen at the top of the order in the history of the game. In full flight, Jayasuriya was one of the most thrilling sights in modern cricket.

Sanath Jayasuriya’s World Cup career:

Matches 38, Highest Score 120, Runs 1165, Average 34.26, Strike-rate 90.66, Hundreds 3, Fifties 6, Catches 18

Wickets 27, Average 39.25, Best 3/12, Economy 4.83

Also read – Highest batting average in world cup

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