Bowled Muttiah Muralitharan caught Mahela Jayawardene is the highest bowler-fielder dismissals (77) involving a non-wicketkeeper in Test matches. The now-retired spin legend, in a chat with The Indian Express, pays tribute to the batsman who will be playing his final Test from Thursday.
This marks an end of an era in Sri Lankan cricket. How do you look at it?
* Yes, we’ve to say farewell with a heavy heart. But nothing lasts forever and he’s going out on a high. I congratulate Mahela on a fabulous career and wish him well.
Where do you place him in an all-time list? Is he Lanka’s best-ever batsman?
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* It’s very difficult to compare between eras, but a 50-plus (50.02) Test average and more than 11,000 runs (11,756 runs in 148 Tests and 11,681 runs in 420 ODIs) in both formats place him pretty high up in the all-time list. He was a magnificent player, who has had the gift of timing. Like all great batsmen he also picked the length early. Mahela was elegance personified. He was a great captain as well and a fantastic reader of the game. He also has been a terrific slip catcher. His presence in the slip cordon always gave extra confidence to us bowlers. Scoreboards have so many entries reading, caught Jayawardene bowled Muralitharan.
Mahela and Kumar Sangakkara have been the two pillars of Sri Lankan batting over the last 10-12 years. One of them is now leaving the stage.
* You can’t replace someone who is irreplaceable. It will take time for the youngsters to fill the void. We’ve to be patient. The good thing is that we do have a steady supply line as far as batting is concerned. It would be unfair to label a young player as the next Mahela because you don’t know what the future may hold. But we have some quality youngsters and I hope two years down the line some of them will be ready to carry forward the legacy. The team, however, has to manage this period of transition well.
When did you for the first time feel that Mahela was a special player?
* It was during an ODI in Adelaide in 1999; a tri-series fixture against England. Mahela came as a replacement player and scored a scintillating hundred (120, 111 balls). It was a fantastic effort in difficult conditions and his first step towards becoming a great batsman.
Can you offer some insight into Mahela’s personality off the field.
* It has always been like his batting – dignified and classy, both on and off the field. He did lose his cool occasionally when team fared badly. But Mahela has usually been very calm and quiet in the dressing-room. He spoke very little even as a captain, but was always to the point. He let his game do the talking.