x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Jayawardene sparks win

Opener's ton helps set up stiff target before rain makes it next to impossible for Zimbabwe as Sri Lanka beat the Africans by D/L method.

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka batsman, scored a masterful century against Zimbabwe yesterday.
Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka batsman, scored a masterful century against Zimbabwe yesterday.

Among the gladiators of Twenty20 cricket using their willows like shiny scimitars, Mahela Jayawardene seems a bit monk-like, shunning violence. There is no bludgeoning or the like associated with him and yet he can have bowlers begging for mercy. To say the Sri Lankan is a connoisseurs' delight would be a cliché; he is a Bach among the head-banging brigade and a pleasure to watch in any form of the game, particularly so in the crude new version of it for he brings finesse to it, just like he did yesterday in Guyana with a classy 64-ball 100.

Unhurried and yet with enough time to pick his spot, Jayawardene was the rock of Sri Lanka's innings in a must-win game. His century - the fourth by any batsman in Twenty20 internationals - allowed last year's finalist to post 173 for seven on the board. Rains then arrived to toughen the odds for Zimbabwe. Nine overs were lost and the African minnows were given a revised target of 106 from 11. They had reached 29 for one from five overs before a second downpour signalled the end of the match, handing Sri Lanka a 14-run win under Duckworth-Lewis and renewing their hopes of reaching the Super Eight.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka's fans, the rains held back enough to allow the minimum-needed five overs for a result in the Zimbabwe innings. And thankfully for the Asians, the clouds did not come to curtail Jayawardene's masterpiece, described as "tempting and tantalising" by one TV commentator, and "geometry and tricks" by another. "In the shortest format, I had to push a little bit with my game," said Jayawardene in a post-match TV interview. "Be a bit more innovative as well as take a few chances. But I think I am enjoying my cricket, which is the most important thing."

Despite his claims of change, Jayawardene plays more copybook than outside; all his shots are from the coaching manuals, but better executed and a lot more pleasing on the eye. No wild hoicks or slogs from him, just elegant cuts and pulls, and graceful lofts. All of those three shots were in exhibition from the first over as the Lanka opener cut Chris Mpofu's second ball and lodged the next over long-off. The final ball of the over was given a wristy dispatch to the fence through midwicket and mid-on. Another maximum followed in the next over and Sri Lanka were off to just the kind of start they needed.

At the other end, Tillakaratne Dilshan's woeful time with the bat continued, but nobody was surprised. Instead, the Lanka fans may have even been thankful that he lasted just four balls before chipping Elton Chigumbura to Mpofu at mid-off; he played 19 for three in the first match. Zimbabwe would have, however, traded that wicket and the others to follow for Jayawardene's early scalp - he had that kind of a bearing on the game. In Sri Lanka's first 50 runs, 43 belonged to Jayawardene and he reached his half-century from just 27 balls, without ever looking like shifting gears.

That, in fact, is the hallmark of his batting. He never seems to be screeching out of the blocks, with engines on a methane-fuelled rage. Instead, he cruises like a Rolls Royce, with a quiet jet engine hidden under the hood. With effortless grace, Jayawardene reached his 100 from 63 balls, hitting 10 exquisite boundaries in the essay and four glorious maximums. "Once the ball gets roughed up, it is slowing down," said Jayawardene, explaining the downtempo towards the end. "The other guys, the big-hitters, came and did their job, so I did not have to take too much risk. The important thing for me was to bat through the innings and hold it together." * Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi, with agencies