After witnessing heartbreaks in final after final, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara (above) bowed out from the shortest format with match-winning performances © Getty Images
An ICC World Championship win was all that was lacking in the glorious resumes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The final of the World T20I 2014 saw the two men walk off with the final fairy-tale feat that fulfilled this last dream. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the moment.
Three years earlier, Mahela Jayawardene had scored one of the most classical and flawless hundreds in the World Cup final against India. And then he had watched with a growing sense of frustration as the Indians had clinically chased down the Sri Lankan total.
That day captain Kumar Sangakkara had chipped in with a useful knock. He had marshalled his resources as best as he could, but that had not been good enough. From behind the wicket he had watched crestfallen as his counterpart MS Dhoni had launched Nuwan Kulasekara into the orbit to finish things off for India.
As the victorious Dhoni had lifted the coveted trophy, the two battle-scarred soldiers had watched their dreams disintegrate into nothingness after coming within a whisker of becoming true.
The two men have already shouldered the burden of batsmanship in the Tests for the island nation. They have taken Sri Lankan batting from the promise of Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis and the audacious self-belief of Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya into the realm of real world class performances through style and substance. Through the years the two, along with the genius of Muttiah Muralitharan, have guided Sri Lanka from an emerging cricketing nation into a major power in the game.
Yet, that loss to India in the World Cup final of 2011 still rankled. They had never managed to take Sri Lanka to an ICC World Cup triumph. This was the gap in the glittering curriculum vitae that still irked these two noble gentlemen. They had reached the final four times, but on every occasion had finished on the losing side.
And the final of the WorldT20 2014 could have indeed been their last opportunity. Both had declared that the tournament would be the last time they would be appearing in a Twenty20 International.
International sports owe no one a happy ending. Even the greatest of cricketers have to write their own scripts, and not all the parameters are under the control of an individual in a team game. However, Muralitharan, their great comrade, alongside whom these two legends had fought so many battles, had shown the way. He had famously picked up eight wickets in his final Test match to bowl Sri Lanka to a memorable win and finish with the magic number of exactly 800.
Mahela Jayawardene is carried around the ground by his teammates during the victory lap © Getty Images
Yet, such fairy-tales are rare. In the final of the 2011 World Cup, Murali had ended wicket-less and on the losing side. And now, Sangakkara and Jayawardene were once again up against India, a side that had won everything in sight in the tournament and looked virtually unbeatable.
The events that followed could not have been better written even by a Homer or a Vyasa had they penned an epic on the feats of the batting duo.
Of course cricket is a team game, and the two champions could not have had such a send-off without the near miraculous bowling at the death by the Sri Lankan bowlers. The Lasith Malinga led unit seemed determined to do it for these two trendsetting batsmen. And after the side had restricted India and a rampaging Virat Kohli to just 130, the stage was set for the two to work their magic for one last time.
In 2011, Jayawardene had finished with an unbeaten century – tonight he was the pace setter after the loss of an early wicket, the second highest scorer of the side. In the previous final against India, Sangakkara had fallen for 48, leaving the job only partly done. This time he came into the match woefully out of form, having managed a reach double figures only once in the tournament. However, it is at such crucial moments that greatness comes to the fore. This remarkable batsman chose his moment to come good. And he did so with panache. The masterly unbeaten 52 guided a somewhat uneasy Sri Lankan innings past the Indian total with plenty to spare.
The two men, the closest of friends on and off the field, left the arena of the T20I forever. And as they walked off, they did so with a pair of smiles that matched the glitter and glory of their wonderful feats in the game. No victory was more deserved, no send-off more fitting.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)