Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Legendary Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has announced that batsman Mahela Jayawardene “is one of the greatest players who has ever played for Sri Lanka”.
Muralitharan’s comments come after Jayawardene revealed that he would be retiring from Test cricket after the upcoming two-Test series against Pakistan in August.
“He is one of the greatest players who has ever played for Sri Lanka,” Muralitharan said. “He has a superb record. We have him and Kumar Sangakkara from the younger group, but when you consider great Sri Lankan batsmen, he is in that group with Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya, who have all contributed so much to Sri Lankan cricket in the batting side.
“Mahela made my job a lot easier, because he would play long innings, get a lot of runs, and give me a lot to bowl at. At home he was a very consistent batsman. He had a compact technique from the time he came in, and he grabbed his chances. At the time he arrived, it was very hard to get into the team because there were a lot of senior batsmen. Somehow he performed well and got into the team. I had heard of him for some time before he played international cricket.”
Jayawardene’s unforgettable innings of 374 is still the highest score made by a Sri Lankan cricketer, but Muralitharan believes that his knock of 123 in the next match against South Africa was the best he had ever seen.
“The 123 against South Africa at the P Sara Oval was probably the best one, because no one else could play like that in that match,” Muralitharan said. “He was the only batsman to get a century. All the best players play very well in the big matches, and Mahela is one of those. He was very good at handling pressure and tried to always put the team in the best position.”
Jayawardene and Muralitharan also formed the most formidable bowler-fielder combination in Test history as the pair accounted for 67 wickets.
No one will also forget that it was Jayawardene who took the catch to dismiss India spinner Pragyan Ojha to give Muralitharan his 800th Test wicket in his last match.
“He was always good off me, and I preferred him to be at slip because he had very fast reflexes, a good technique and good hands,” Muralitharan said. “I think taking slip catches off spinners is one of the hardest things, but he was the best at that. He started off at short leg, and he took a lot of catches there as well, before moving into slip. I always felt comfortable with him there.”
Muralitharan also experienced one of his most successful periods when Jayawardene was captain.
He claimed 186 wickets at an incredible average of 21.25 when Jayawardene was in charge of the Test team.
“Mahela was very good with the strategy side of things and setting fields, and again he was one of the best,” Muralitharan said. “He understood the game a lot and knew quickly when things were changing. He gave all his players a lot of confidence, and especially backed the youngsters, so that was good.
“He was a quiet person in the dressing room – he didn’t say that much but he concentrated on the game. He didn’t try to get into any controversy. He just stayed focused and played well.”
Muralitharan added that Jayawardene was one of the best batsmen when it came to facing spinners.
“At the start he was a bit vulnerable to seam bowling, but he worked on that,” he said. “But he was always good for spin, because he read the ball well and used his feet well. He has scored a lot on turning tracks because of that.”