POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 25, 2007 AT 08:37 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 25, 2007 08:37 IST
For each of the 228 times in his 246 match ODI career that Mahela Jayawardene has graced the crease, commentators have admired his talent. Some have even gone on to say that Mahela is as talented as the great Sachin Tendulkar. To his credit, he has given his supporters enough fodder with scores of 374 and 242 in Test matches and some real purple patches in a somewhat inconsistent one day international career. But never has the talent been made full use of. Face it—Mahela Jayawardene isn’t anyone’s first choice as batsman in an Asian XI. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar invariably get the nod before him. And in a World XI, Mahela will, more often than not, have to make way for the likes of Ricky Ponting or Jacques Kallis.

What I have written above is relevant to Mahela Jayawardene as on 23 April 2007. Post afternoon/evening of 24 April 2007 and the man has finally come of age. Playing one of the greatest one-day knocks of his career, certainly the most important, Mahela, the captain and the batsman, has progressed to that select level, an elite echelon where cricket’s greats of all time sit in unison. Coming in to bat at a time when New Zealand was trying hard to take charge of the game, Mahela had the quietest of his world cup starts. So much so that some journalists sitting next to me in the media stand at Sabina Park commented that Mahela would be the one to blame for a Sri Lankan defeat. And right they were. 2 of 19 balls or 11 of 37 aren’t statistics that wee bit indicate what the end result was. Not a single boundary in his first 30 overs at the crease and then a flurry in his last ten to go with three captivating sixes, Mahela’s innings was a definitive coaching manual as to what one can achieve if one is prepared to fight it out.

It will be a cliché to suggest that some of the shots he played were simply breathtaking. Indeed they were. Without such shots, an innings with class written all over isn’t ever played. What stood out in Mahela’s act, however, was the way he rose to the occasion. With Jayasuriya and Sangakkara dismissed cheaply and Silva and Dilshan given out wrongly, Sri Lanka could easily have finished up with 260, a fighting score yes but certainly not a winning one. And that’s when Mahela decided to take charge. Neutralizing the Bond factor with some help from Shane himself, he exorcised the demons of the 2003 world cup semi-final with utmost sincerity. It was a laboured act yes, but one loaded with tenacity and fortitude. Interestingly, that’s what makes it stand out. It was a captain playing for his life, world cup survival and for country.

On 99, he neatly maneuvered the ball between third man and cover point, an area he had made his own during the entire innings. As the ball crossed the ropes, so did Mahela’s emotions. A quick hug from the non-striker and couple of wrist punches, Mahela knew he had achieved something special. Waving his bat at the section of Sri Lankan fans sitting in the George Headley stand, the grin simply did not stop. The emotion had been let loose and with it was evident the resolve. Mahela Jayawardene, the unfulfilled talent, isn’t a genius in the making anymore. He is, well and truly, one. He has always been number two to Sanath in the Sri Lankan batting hierarchy and number three in the list of contemporary icons after Sanath and Murali. Perhaps he has done enough to change that stat, especially after the 115 of 109 deliveries and after being named Wisden cricketer of the year in 2007. Or perhaps not. The final transformation will be heralded at Bridgetown Barbados on 28 April 2007.

A match-winning hundred in a world cup semi-final as captain, can it ever get better for Mahela Jayawardene? May be it can. Another match winning century in the final and Mahela would have scripted himself into Sri Lankan folklore if has not already done so.
POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 25, 2007 AT 08:37 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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