x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mahela Jayawardene proving to be the go-to guy for Sri Lanka

Whether the hosts win the World Twenty20 or not, their star batsman has already steered the team out of another slump, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Mahela Jayawardene has led by example, scoring 210 runs in this year's World Twenty20. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Mahela Jayawardene has led by example, scoring 210 runs in this year's World Twenty20. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

COLOMBO // This time last year Sri Lanka were a bit of a mess. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara had given up the captaincy, Tillakaratne Dilshan was struggling and the board was bankrupt.

Maybe we just do not wonder enough about what goes on in Sri Lankan cricket because you wonder about the details of Jayawardene and Sangakkara leaving behind the leadership. Tales and details of Indian and Pakistani dysfunction travel well but not so Sri Lanka.

This time last year, Sri Lanka were definitely not making it to the final of the World Twenty20, favourites to win a world title in front of their people.

Here they are though and had this turnaround been Indian or Pakistani, imagine the eulogies. Maybe a win at the R Premadasa tonight will bring forth some because they are needed.

To Jayawardene, as returning captain early this year, naturally goes much of the credit. Of the three recent captains, he has easily looked the most captainly, his leadership like his batting, elegant, proactive and smart.

Unsurprisingly, given what has happened in this time, he could not have imagined he would be leading his side out tonight into what, he admitted, was the biggest game staged on Sri Lankan soil.

"Both occasions that I've led my country I've been put into the situation," he explained.

"The first time Marvan [Atapattu] got injured and then I continued and this time ... No I wasn't thinking that far ahead obviously last year, just concentrating on my batting. I've always said I've first seen myself as a player in the team and then as a leader.

"All the decision-making comes in different stages and you don't think too much about it, you just concentrate on your contribution as a player to the team. That is the most important thing."

He could hardly have contributed more; his side's top-scorer this tournament and the creator of a bit of silk from clay that won the semi-final against Pakistan. He is also the perfect buffer between the expectations of this country. Those may not be as extreme as the subcontinent neighbours, but they are heavy and he knows it. And he soaks it in.

This will be the second time he leads Sri Lanka into a world final and the disappointing loss in that first one – the 50-over World Cup defeat to Australia in the West Indies in 2007 – has been added to by losses in the World T20 final in 2009 and the World Cup in 2011 (as well as a semi-final defeat in the 2010 World T20).

But Jayawardene – and this is revealing of him and the way people follow the game here – has seen those losses as medallions, not nooses around his neck. No one says that the Sri Lankans choke.

"Going into finals is fantastic and we don't take it as a negative thing. We've tried our best in those finals but the other team has played better cricket so going into this what we'll try to do is to play better cricket than the opposition, it's as simple as that. We don't want to go back in history."

Tonight really feels like it will be different, not only because on paper they should win more against the West Indies than they lose, or that the entire 35,000 (and more) crowd will be behind them. No, Sri Lanka winning this, at home, in the first global event the have hosted alone since peace returned, just feels right.

"It has been a great couple of weeks for the entire country, people have embraced that well," he said. "They've been fantastic, they've enjoyed some good cricket. When we started the tournament expectations were the same and they wanted us in the final.

"That hasn't died down and as a team we've handled that pretty well. We haven't gotten ahead of ourselves, we've just concentrated on one game at a time and we're here now and we'll concentrate on the final."

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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