Few would have guessed, when T20 cricket made its advent, that Mahela Jayawardene would walk into his final international game in the format as his country’s heaviest run-scorer. Sri Lanka has produced flashier batsmen and stronger hitters, all seemingly better equipped to clear boundaries and thrill crowds. Expecting Jayawardene to biff his way around colourful 20-over cricket should have been like hoping for a Rolls Royce Phantom to win the Monaco GP. Except it wasn’t.
Jayawardene adapted like few have, discovering shots outside his inventory, but drawing them into his comfort zone. Over his 54 T20I matches, he averages more than David Warner, at a strike rate only five units under his.
On Sunday, Jayawardene and his dear friend Kumar Sangakkara, both 36, will walk into the T20 international sunset with the final of the ICC World Twenty20 at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium here. Both will remain in the service of their nation in the other forms of the game, but to watch two players with 68 Test hundreds between them hold their own in 20-over cricket is a privilege.
Sangakkara, perhaps not as pleasing on the eye as Jayawardene, still averages over 30 in T20I cricket, having played 55 matches.
“They will definitely be missed but everything good comes to an end, so they have to get over it and get someone else to fill the space,” M.S. Dhoni said here on Saturday. “With T20, the only thing is it’s a new format, so everyone has the same experience. But the Sri Lankans will miss their presence in the dressing room. Between them, they have in excess of 650 ODI games and a lot of Test matches.”
The West Indian captain Darren Sammy, who finished on the losing side to Sri Lanka after rain interrupted their semifinal, appeared overcome. “We are a praying team, we know God normally answers our prayers but today, I guess two gentlemen who have played for Sri Lanka, given a lot not only to Sri Lanka cricket but cricket on the whole, I guess the Almighty wants them to leave on a high. Probably that’s the reason why God put a hand in this match,” he said.
“Real kind words from Darren Sammy,” Sangakkara tweeted in response the following day.
The pair has not had the greatest of tournaments here, although Jayawardene made a vital but ultimately futile 89 over England in the group stages. Both have expressed that it would not be practical to stay on till the next T20 World Cup and that Sri Lanka will be better off grooming younger players.
But there still lingers the drive to finish with one big prize. “There was nobody more pumped up before the New Zealand fielding innings than Mahela,” the Sri Lanka coach Paul Farbrace revealed earlier this week. “He ran past me and nearly knocked me out of the way. You could see from his body language on the field how desperate he was for the team to do well.”
Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene have captained losing Sri Lankan sides in World Twenty20 finals, the former in 2009 and the latter in 2012. Both ended in bitter disappointment.
There is a strong desire in the Sri Lankan team, now, to see them off with one memorable victory. Even the ICC could not resist, tweeting last month a picture of the pair with “One last World Cup/ let's make it count” inscribed within.
“I have played under both of them, and now they are playing under me,” the Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga said here on Saturday. “We all want to do our best for these two. It’s a special day tomorrow and we have to do something special.”