A Safe Pair of Hands – A Tribute to Mahela Jayawardene
Posted on August 18th, 2014

Dilrook Kannangara

Seventeen years is a long time in Test Cricket. Lankan cricket fans grew up and grew old with Mahela. As he retires it feels like an end of a chapter in life for some of them. The slot he leaves void in the Test batting line-up will not be easily filled and the catches he used to take will have to find another pair of safe hands. With 11,814 Test runs, a whopping 205 catches and even six wickets, his contribution is one of the greatest. Batsman, fielder, bowler and captain were not his only roles. He was called upon many a time to lead the transformation of the team. He had his ups and downs, and he pushed and dragged the team along them. Many would agree Mahela spoke for the nation in his own unique way. His humility is something young cricketers must emulate, if serious about a long career in the game.

CRICKET-SRI-PAK(Photo courtesy AFP).

Young Mahela through Cricketing Transition

Mahela came to prominence in early 1990s when he played for Nalanda College First Eleven when he was just 13 years old. He showed tremendous potential both as a batsman and a spin bowler. His stroke play was as effortless and seamless as he prowled the field. Cheeky when needed, classy all other times. He lived through a family tragedy in the personal front and passed a cricketing transition in Lankan cricketing history when players turned full-time professionals from semi-professionals before the World Cup win. His permanent berth in the ODI national team came in early 1998 when he drove Team Sri Lanka to victory against England in Australia with a maiden century. Had the cricketing administration been more proactive, he should have been included in the team just after winning the World Cup in 1996. That could have changed the fortunes of the national team at the 1999 World Cup and immensely helped Mahela professionalise his play one and a half years earlier.   

Transformational Leadership

The cricketing transition of 1996 was just the start. Another one shaped the local scene. Despite the best Test and ODI captaincy till then, Sanath Jayasuriya was replaced in 2002 which didn’t work well for the national team. The task of rebuilding the team fell on young Mahela in 2004. He led a team comprising senior and young players and firmly took control of the team’s destiny which brought out the potential of every player. The team scored a number of key victories across the cricketing map. A record partnership in South Africa was a trendsetter and scintillating performance in Australia, England and the West Indies proved the team can do well outside the subcontinent. The team under Mahela peaked in 2007 reaching the final in World Cup held in fast bouncy pitches in the Caribbean.

Mahela can be credited for the grooming of Sanga as the next captain which was one of few smooth transitions in Lankan cricketing history. Mahela had his peaks and troughs; sometimes the troughs lasting longer for the fans’ liking. At times his captaincy lacked aggression and innovation. His batting performance left much to be desired in final contests except in World Cup 2011 as pressure took its toll. Fortunes of the Lankan Team showed strong correlation to his batting performance in crucial matches.

Second Call of Duty

After the World Cup 2011 final match the team underwent another reshuffle at the top. The new captain despite his remarkable skills failed to fill in the big task required of him. Mahela was appointed captain again. It was his second stint in transformational leadership. No one could have done it better. By the time he relinquished captaincy duties two young captains have been groomed.

It was an additional duty Mahela took upon himself and discharged it with true professionalism. He never complained or looked for a scapegoat. It was another difficult transition as financial crisis hit the cricket administration. He stayed out of controversies in and out of the field which is the mark of a true professional. The new exciting 20 over format was taking the cricketing world by storm and Mahela quickly adapted to its demands. If a price tag is to be placed on a cricketer in the shorter format, Mahela came on top among all Sri Lankan players.

Much More than Personal Records

Mahela was never a fan of personal records but his achievements aren’t personal alone. They are the ones that put Sri Lanka on top on the list. He may continue for the World Cup 2015 for that elusive World Cup win which he truly deserves but never quite got hold of. Mahela has stood tall from transition to transition in all three formats of the game, brushed shoulders with the greatest and still planted his feet firmly on ground. He will be missed in the green but will find a permanent abode in the hearts of his millions of fans. We wish every success to Mahela and family.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2020 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress