Many people credit Martin Crowe for revolutionizing one-day cricket by allowing Mark Greatbatch the freedom to hit his way out of trouble in the 1992 World Cup held in New Zealand and Australia. However, it was really a certain Sri Lankan who took it several notches higher and changed the very way the game was played. Yes, that Sri Lankan mauler who goes by the name of Sanath Jayasuriya started his career as a slow left-arm spinner and almost spent the first half of his career in that role. However, once Arjuna Ranatunga identified his batting talent, especially the murderous strokeplay and aggressive intent, he was soon busy carving up attacks with his partner-in-crime Romesh Kaluwitharana and helped Sri Lanka enter its name in the annals of the game with the memorable triumph against the Aussies in the 1996 World Cup finale.
However, more than the one-day game, I personally feel that Sanath Teran Jayasuriya made a bigger contribution in the domain of test cricket. Nowadays, it has almost become normative for test openers to score at 3 runs an over – well Mr. Jayasuriya started the trend way back in the ’90s with his swashbuckling array of horizontal bat strokes against the best of fast bowlers as well as the canniest of spinners. He made 6973 runs from 110 tests at an average of 40.07 with 14 centuries to boot – not bad when you think he started his career as a bowler who could bat a little. This includes the mammoth 340 he made against India at home.
Jayasuriya scored at such a ridiculous rate even in test matches that it gave plenty of time for Sri Lanka’s premier strike bowlers Vaas and Muralitharana to work their way round opposition batsmen and help the team win matches. He also did yeoman service with his capable left arm spin acting as the perfect foil for Murali and building up the pressure with his pinpoint accuracy that helped the strike bowlers pile up wickets at the other end. This was more on view in the one dayers which is where Sri Lanka has performed really well over the years.
Nowadays when people talk of revolutionary batting in test cricket, they talk only about people like Sehwag and Hayden. Strangely though Jayasuriya is never mentioned. In my eyes, he was very much the predecessor of the aforementioned batting greats with the frenetic pace of his scoring coupled with his hare-like approach between the wickets. He also led the national side for 4 years after the retirement of his mentor, Arjuna Ranatunga. As a captain, he was more of a lead-by-example type rather than a clever tactician like his predecessor. The team played well under him and his tenure ended with a semi-final berth in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. At present, he is playing the role of a selector for the national team and one only wishes that he performs well there too, helping the Lankan Lions scale the heights like he did as a cavalier batsman.