“You can call him the Master Blaster, Matara Hurricane or Matara Mauler, will always be reminisced as the man who revolutionised the batting in one-day format of the game”.
Chris Gayle was 17, Brendon McCullum was 15 and David Warner was 10 when Sanath Teran Jayasuriya challenged cricket’s ideologies and helped Sri Lanka lift their maiden ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996. In the eighties and early nineties, batting was scripted: respect the new ball, take time, build a platform, preserve wickets and after the opposition bowlers are tired off, then launch with the attack. That was the typical tradition followed by the opening batsman in limited-overs cricket forever.
But things would not remain the same!
Yes, great captains like Imran Khan and Martin Crowe did their experiment quite successfully to challenge the orthodox approach, but Sanath and his partner would give pinch-hitting the hype and greatness, which changed the dynamics of batting in limited-overs format.
Sanath Jayasuriya made his ODI debut in 1989 and ironically, for the first half-decade of his career, he was known as a spinner, who could bat a bit. It took him three years to crawl from the middle-order to the top-order and the 1993 Hero Cup in India was the point when Sri Lanka were about to witness an alteration in their opening pair.
The Lankan think tank wished to revolutionise the batting in the 50-over format. They shuffled the batting order and promoted wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharan to open with Jayasuriya in the World Series Cricket in Australia few months before the mega event in the subcontinent. It shook Australia and West Indies while the rest of the world was left admiring the duos clean-hitting and perfect utilisation of the 15-over field restrictions (mind you, there was no batting powerplay back then).
During the World Series Cricket of 1989-90 and Austral-Asia Cup in 1990, Imran wanted to utilise the 15-over field restriction by using Rameez Raja and Saeed Anwar combination and Saleem Yousuf and Anwar combination, while Crowe promoted Mark Greatbatch up the order during ICC Wolrd Cup 1992 to utilise the same and both the captains were successful to a certain extent. But the combination of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana overshadowed their plans and took pinch-hitting to a different level – it was sheer entertainment and great memories relish for a long, long time.
The 1996 World Cup, which was hosted by India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan would go on to witness Sri Lanka’s enjoy the fireworks of these two batters from the Island nation. They literally blew away the opposition bowlers with murderous batting displays. Notching-up hundred runs within 15 overs became a cakewalk. The dynamic duo smashed 117 against India, 123 versus Kenya and 121 against England in the quarterfinals within 15 overs. Anything that was delivered short to him was punished with either the cut or pull to clear the infield or anything loose would be treated with a rare disdain.
When you think of Jayasuriya, images of him hammering the ball over to the cover and point will play on loop in your mind. That was exactly witnessed in the World Cup. He had a great campaign both with the bat and ball. When he could not deliver with the bat in the semi-final and final, he full-filled his contribution by picking crucial wickets and being an economical bowler. Although, Jayasuriya’s bowling was always dependent on variations in pace and not sharp turn, his eventually 440 international wickets certainly spoke about his skills as a talented all-rounder Sri Lanka had enjoyed for 22 years.
Jayasuriya was one of biggest heroes in the 1996 World Cup and was named the Most Valuable Player and he thoroughly deserved that. The World Cup victory was not restricted to the Lankan dressing table but it came off as an inspiration to the thousands of cricket enthusiasts across the country and among them was a young boy, who would go on to etch his name in the history books of not just Sri Lankan cricket but also world cricket – Kumar Sangakkara. “That World Cup win probably inspired not just me, but a whole generation of young cricketers to try and play for Sri Lanka. He changed the face of world cricket, especially in the one-day arena. He’s a wonderful cricketer, a wonderful man and he’s had a wonderful career,” he said.
After Arjuna Ranatunga’s reign as skipper ended, Jayasuriya was made in charge and the stint lasted for four years. It ended with the 2003 World Cup and rumours had begun saying Jayasuriya was well past his prime and the end was near. Rubbishing that, the destructive opener registered a classic 2004 season. He scored two centuries, after a gap of two years and ended the year with an average of 37, way better than his previous two years. Then came retirement in 2006 but he returned off it within a few weeks.
Jayasuriya then went on to play for another six years before he finally hung his boots. He still remains Sri Lanka’s best all-rounder and in fact the world’s, especially in the limited-overs cricket. He is the only player to score over 12,000 runs and capture more than 300 wickets in the ODIs.
You can call him the Master Blaster, Matara Hurricane or Matara Mauler, will always be reminisced as the man who revolutionised the batting in one-day format of the game. The likes of Gayle, McCullum and Warner had begun their cricketing careers when the trend of explosive openings was already in place and which is why there were no surprises when these guys chose to play Jayasuriya’s way – go all-out right from ball No. 1.
“It was the time when the 15-over rule was introduced. We used to see boring starts in ODIs, with teams happy with 30 or 35 on the board. Then Sanath (Jayasuriya) and I came on board and changed the game. The initial reaction was “What the hell is this?” and we were criticized. Now it has changed because everyone is doing it, scoring 300 for fun. But they’ve become too predictable. That is why I believe, while Sanath and I were exceptions then. Nowadays they are all freaks,” Jayasuriya’s opening partner Kaluwitharana said a couple of years ago.