By Karthik Parimal
Often in life, we come across people who appear to play their role to perfection and with nonchalant ease - as if they were tailor-made for the task. They seem to under control, no matter how complex the situation is in reality. In high-pressure sports, it’s a blessing to have someone like that. His calming influence dilutes the pressure factor and brings out the best from the team.
Perhaps that’s why the Sri Lankans have managed to come up with some strong performances in the recent past, because it certainly helps to have that someone like Mahela Jayawardene lead the side.
On Saturday, when Sri Lanka cruised to a comfortable victory over West Indies - a team that is touted to be one of the pre-tournament in the ongoing T20 World Cup - it was Jayawardene who yet again led by example. The target was not challenging, but it was good enough not to be taken lightly. Chasing a score of 130 often puts a side in a dilemma, as there could be no vivid approach. But it appeared as though the situation was apt for Jayawardene. His unbeaten 65 showed exactly why he’s still such a key element in this Sri Lankan side.
This is not the first time that Jayawardene has led from the front. He’s done it in Tests, One-Day Internationals (ODI), and the fact that he reached his highest T20 score in the last game speaks volumes of his dexterity across all versions of the game. T20 is a format in which slogging is common sight. However, players like Jayawardene are still out there, proving that a proper technique will fetch rich and consistent dividends, irrespective of the format.
For a man who has a lot in his repertoire, Jayawardene’s leadership skill continues to stand apart. The way he’s marshalled his resources is praiseworthy. On the talent front, it’d be safe to say that the Sri Lankans are lagging behind compared to some of the other teams in this tournament. Nevertheless, Jayawardene has managed to extract something from each of his players, and it now appears as though his side is peaking just at the right time. All hopes lay on Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lasith Malinga and Jayawardene himself before the commencement of the World Cup, but we now have the likes of Ajantha Mendis and Jeevan Mendis stepping up to the plate.
It was a masterstroke to include an unknown entity in the form of Akila Dananjaya before the start of this tournament. And the selection was primarily due to the unorthodoxy factor the spinner could get to the table. He delivered straightaway, picking two wickets in his first game against New Zealand. It’s unfortunate that he suffered a cheekbone fracture as Dananjaya could have bolstered Sri Lanka’s attack had he been declared fit for the remainder of the tournament. Nevertheless, they have enough in their artillery to bridge the gap. Bowling is not an area of concern for them in this tournament.
Teams from the subcontinent are not popular for their fielding abilities, but the Sri Lankans have changed that perception in their last two games. Their performance on the field must surely have made the best in that business proud. Not only did they bowl with precision against the West Indies, but the fielders saved close to 15 or 20 runs in the middle. That’s a morale booster, considering West Indies’ flamboyant batting line-up. The fielders played a significant role during the previous game as well, helping their bowlers peg New Zealand back during the final overs of the innings. Perhaps Dilshan’s catch during the super over summarises it aptly.
Sri Lanka looks set to make the semi-finals, with two victories already in the bag and a game remaining against England. The fact that they’ve come up with top-notch performances against formidable sides in this tournament must send alarm bells ringing to the other oppositions. Jayawardene was the one who pushed Sri Lanka to the brink of victory during the 2011 50-over World Cup. His performances continue to be an inspiration during this World Cup as well. With the team peaking just at the right moment, the Sri Lankans will throw the hat into the ring for the title. Can they cross the finish line this time around?
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)