When Mahela Jayawardene slogged across the line of a Suresh Raina delivery, his life as a cricketing bridesmaid would have flashed before him. Under the helmet, he grimaced, then smashed his bat on to his pad. Caught by a diving Ravichandran Ashwin at midwicket, the 36-year-old Jayawardene shook his head in disappointment all the way to the boundary rope. Then, as Jayawardene made his way to the dug-out, next-man-in and long-time friend and ally Kumar Sangakkara passed him. (Photos: Fitting finale for retiring duo)
The two paused for a second and spoke before crossing each other. It’s anybody’s guess what one told the other but it certainly wouldn’t have been: “I’ll see you in the dug-out soon.” (Also Read: Lanka executed their plans brilliantly in last four overs, says Dhoni)
Because the next time these two men met, Sri Lanka were World T20 champions. And Sangakkara and Jayawardene — Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketers in the new century — had finally broken the big-trophy jinx — in their fifth World Cup final across formats.
Ten-thousand plus runs in both formats for each of these stalwarts make them legends in cricket across eras. But a modern day cricketer without a World Cup winners’ medal is quite like a great golfer not winning a Major or a tennis prodigy going through a Slam-less career. The one that gets away usually consigns a man to a life of regret. (Also Read: Seven years, five finals… It’s been a long time coming, says Sanga)
When Jayawardene wiped his brow and exited the arena, Sri Lanka were 65 for three. Another 66 were needed off 61 balls. Then, not long after he took off his pads, he watched Lahiru Thirimanne being dismissed by Amit Mishra. Half way through the 13th over of the chase with four wickets down, Lanka still needed 53 off 45. At the non-striker’s end, Sangakkara’s memory would have jogged back to that World T20 final night in Colombo nearly one-and-a-half years ago, when his side had made a mess of a small target — 138 runs. Today, they were fumbling with 131.
But Sanagakkara is a master of building an innings. He edged an Ashwin carrom ball, was beaten by a googly from Mishra and played and missed a few more. Yet didn’t lose his composure. Nor did he let the distractions of losing every big final in the last seven years bother him. (Also Read: Yuvraj, hero of 2007 and ’11, flops in ’14)
Singles were earned by placing the ball along the ground through the vacant mind-off region. The asking rate didn’t demand that a boundary be hit every other ball, so Sangakkara knew that if he stayed till the end the odd lose ball would arrive. He used the slog-sweep, the glance and the inside-out cover drive to hit boundaries. When he had walked in to bat, SL needed 66 on a slow and low pitch that was making the spinners look great. Sangakkara scored 52 of those runs, in just 35 balls to shepherd the bulk of the chase.
The Indian spinners were trying to choke the Sri Lankans with the hope that they would collapse just when the elusive title was in sight. Thisara Perera, the all-rounder who was picked for the final mainly for his prowess with the bat, is not the best player of spin. But with Sangakkara’s encouraging nods prodding him on, Perera not only survived the spin inquest but made an unbeaten 23 off 14. Three of the sixes he hit were against the spinners, the first two off Amit Mishra and one off Ravichandran Ashwin to finish off the match. (Also Read: Stones pelted at Yuvraj Singh’s Chandigarh home)
The win was achieved with 13 balls and six wickets to spare.
The victory over India allowed Sangakkara and Jayawardene to end their T20 International career’s on a high. But they were not the only stars on this famous day in Sri Lankan cricket. Skipper Lasith Malinga ensured that he will be remembered as a World Cup winning captain. Although he dropped Virat Kohli on 11, he more than made amends by bowling two fantastic over at the death — the 17th and the 19th — conceding just 11 runs from them. Kohli went on to make 77, but with the rest of the team failing at the end, it wasn’t nearly enough for India.
There was a reason to India’s lacklustre performance with the bat — Rangana Herath. He conceded just 23 runs in his quota of four overs well before the death (he finished by the 13th over). The third of those overs, the 11th of the innings, he dismissed Rohit Sharma and gave away just one run. India and Kohli slipped away from Lanka’s clutches momentarily after Herath completed his spell.
Still, they didn’t get nearly enough to deny Sangakkara from finally becoming a world champion.