Test cricket will bid farewell to one of its most elegant strokemakers when Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene quits the longer format after the second Test against Pakistan, starting in Colombo on Thursday.
Few cricketers have exemplified the spirit of the game better than the gentlemanly 37-year-old, even though his pleasant demeanour hides nerves of steel, a calculating street-smart mind and an obsessive drive for perfection.
The elegant right-hander retired from Twenty20 internationals after Sri Lanka’s title-winning campaign in the World T20 in April, but still hopes to compete in next year’s one-day World Cup Down Under.
Jayawardene is one of only five batsmen to score more than 11,000 runs in both Test and one-day cricket — the others being Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and team-mate Kumar Sangakkara.
An average of 50.02 over 148 Tests with 34 centuries illustrates his hunger for runs through a 17-year-career.
Although his form outside Asia has been inconsistent, he has set a deluge of records at home.
He scored a monumental 374 during a world record partnership of 624 with Sangakkara (287) against a South African attack that included Dale Steyn and Makhya Ntini on his home ground at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo in 2006.
Jayawardene looked set to surpass Brian Lara’s record of 400 when he was bowled against the run of play. Ever the team-mate, he preferred to rejoice in his team’s huge win by an innings and 153 runs.
He got a taste of big scores on his Test debut itself as a 20-year-old in 1997, when Sri Lanka piled up a world record total of 952-6 declared against India at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo.
Slated to bat at number six, the young Jayawardene saw Sanath Jayasuriya make 340, supported by Roshan Mahanama (225), before himself scoring 66.
Jayawardene’s farewell Test was originally scheduled to be played at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo before thoughtful officials accepted a request to move it to the SSC.
His 2,863 runs in 26 Tests at the SSC are the most by any batsman at a single ground, marked by an average of 77.37 with 11 centuries and eight 50s.
Last month, against Hashim Amla’s South African team, Jayawardene showed his skills had not diminished as he once again revelled in the serene surroundings of the SSC to make a fluent 165.
He bid farewell to another happy hunting ground in Galle on Sunday by making 59 in the first innings, and 26 in the unfamiliar role of an opener in the second as Sri Lanka beat fading light and approaching rain to chase down a target of 99 with 4.2 overs to spare against Pakistan.
Jayawardene admitted it was not an easy decision to retire.
“It has been a great privilege and honour representing my country during the past 17 years,” he said.
“But I believe this is the right time. The younger players in the side are doing well and Angelo (Mathews) has settled in as captain. My job is done.”
A prolific slip-catcher, Jayawardene’s 202 catches are second only to India’s Rahul Dravid and his record tally of 210 by a fielder other than a wicket-keeper.
Jayawardene was also an astute captain who took Sri Lanka to the World Cup final in 2007. He quit the post in 2009, but continued to play under Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan before he took on the job again in 2012 for a year as Mathews was groomed.
Off the field, Jayawardene is the co-owner with Sangakkara of an upmarket fish restaurant in Colombo.
Sangakkara said his good friend will be hard to replace.
“Not just me, but the cricket world, Sri Lankan fans and our whole team will feel the loss of a great player like Mahela,” Sangakkara said. “It will take a long time to fill that void.
“He’s always been the ultimate team man. Everyone in the dressing room respects and admires his honesty, integrity, commitment, inner strength and great strategic vision.”