LAST HURRAH: Sri Lankan cricketer Mahela Jayawardene throws a ball during a practice session at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo yesterday. The Lankan batting legend will retire from Tests after the second Test against Pakistan, which begins at the same venue today. The SSC is also Jayawardene's home ground. (AFP)
Sri Lanka are determined to send former captain Mahela Jayawardene into retirement with a victory in the second and final Test starting today against a fragile Pakistan and a 2-0 series sweep.
Captain Angelo Mathews said emotions were running high in the home team’s dressing room before the match at Jayawardene’s home ground, the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo.
“It is an emotional moment for everyone,” Mathews said. “We want to win it for him. He has been the pillar of strength for us for so many years. We will miss him a lot. The best thing we can do is try and win the game and give him the best farewell that we could possibly give him.”
Jayawardene, 37, who has already retired from Twenty20 internationals, will quit the longer format after the Test, even though he will continue playing in one-day matches till next year’s World Cup Down Under.
The elegant right-hander 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 teammate Kumar Sangakkara.
Sri Lanka won the first Test in Galle on Sunday by seven wickets after a nail-biting chase when they beat fading light to surpass the target of 99 in the final session just before heavy rain drenched the ground.
Jayawardene’s farewell Test was originally scheduled to be played at the P Sara Oval in Colombo before thoughtful officials moved it to the SSC.
Jayawardene’s 2,863 runs in 26 Tests at the SSC are the most by any batsman at a single ground, highlighted by an average of 77.37 there with 11 centuries that include a best of 374 against South Africa in 2006.
Last month, against Hashim Amla’s South African team, Jayawardene hit a fluent 165 at the SSC to show his skills had not diminished. He goes into his final Test after making 59 in the first innings at Galle and a quickfire 26 in the unfamiliar role of an opener during the chase.
Mathews hoped his team would not be distracted from its aim of sweeping the series. “When you walk into a game, you want to win all the time,” he said. “That’s the attitude we take, regardless of what’s happening around us. We want to keep our focus and play it for Mahela.”
The Galle Test was heading for a draw after just 20 wickets had fallen on the first four days, before a six-wicket burst from Rangana Herath skittled Pakistan for 180 in the second innings.
Pakistan were further handed a severe blow on Monday when the International Cricket Council (ICC) said star off-spinner Saeed Ajmal had been reported for a suspect action for the second time in his career.
Ajmal, 36, who has taken 174 wickets in 34 Tests, has been allowed to play on till he is tested at the end of the month.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq said he was confident Ajmal’s action will be cleared and hoped his team can level the series—just like they did against the same opponents in the United Arab Emirates in January.
“We have to forget what happened in Galle and concentrate on the game ahead,” he said. “We have done it before. Anything can happen in cricket. We played well in patches in Galle. We batted well in the first innings but could not repeat that in the second. Being consistent is one area where we have to improve.”
Mahela a rare brand, says Mathews
Cricketers like Mahela Jayawardene come around very rarely and younger players in the team have a lot to learn from his fighting attitude, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said on the eve of the veteran batsman’s last Test match.
“As we all know, it’s going to be Mahela’s last game. It’s an emotional moment for everyone... It will take a long time to replace him because he’s the kind of player that comes around very rarely. We can’t do his service justice with words," Mathews told reporters yesterday. “As a team we’re very sad he’s retiring. The best thing we can do is play well in this match and win it for him.”
Mathews said the team, especially the younger players, will miss Jayawardene’s presence in the dressing room.
“Mahela is a real fighter. If you go into a warm-up match with him, he’ll still try to fight and win. That’s the kind of character he is, he’s an unbelievable player,” Mathews added.
“He puts options on the table and he’s the most senior guy in the team, and we’re going to miss him so much. The younger guys, including me, have learned so much from him.
“Up to now, he has supported me right throughout from day one, and I’m really thankful to him for that.”