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Sri Lankan cricket is in good hands, insists Mahela Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene ended his Test career with a win against Pakistan © AFP
Mahela Jayawardene ended his Test career with a win against Pakistan © AFP

By Kuldip Lal

Colombo: Aug 20, 2014

Sri Lanka are banking on young talent to see them through a transitional phase in Test cricket despite the departure of one batting great, another approaching retirement and an ageing spinner in the ranks.

Former captain Mahela Jayawardene, who ended his 17-year Test career on Monday following the 2-0 series win over Pakistan, said there was no cause for panic over the side’s immediate future.

The elegant 37-year-old insisted Sri Lanka had a good pool of young players who were ready to take over. ”When Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) retired, people said we won’t win without him,” Jayawardene said. ”But we are still doing well. There are others who will do even better than us.”, he added.

Jayawardene, who will quit all forms of cricket after next year’s 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, is one 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 team-mate Kumar Sangakkara.

Sangakkara, who turns 37 in October, could also hang up his bat after the World Cup even though his excellent recent form suggests retirement is not his immediate concern. Both batsmen have already retired from Twenty20 cricket, bowing out after Sri Lanka’s victory in April in the T20 World Cup final.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has been Sri Lanka’s leading Test bowler since record holder Muralitharan retired with 800 wickets in 2010, but at 36 he cannot be expected to go on much longer. Herath’s 23 wickets against Pakistan were the most by any bowler in the two-Test series and took his tally to 260 in 57 matches.

Sangakkara was forced to clarify his own plans after an exaggerated raising of the bat following his dismissal for 59 in the second Test against Pakistan. ”Waving the bat was just… I didn’t have anything in mind,” he told reporters. “We won’t be playing Test cricket in Sri Lanka for a long time, so I thought… I will take a decision about my future after the World Cup, after speaking to the national selectors.”

Sri Lanka have just one Test series — in New Zealand early next year — before the World Cup in February and March 2015.

The World Cup could also mark the end of the road for swashbuckling opener Tillakaratne Dilshan who quit Tests last year as well as sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga who retired from five-day cricket in 2011. Sangakkara though is likely to leave the biggest hole.

The left-hander is the country’s number one Test batsman with 11,988 runs in 128 matches at an average of 58.76 with 37 centuries. Since January, he has made three Test hundreds, including a 319 and 221, besides eight half-centuries.

Former Test batsman and television commentator Russel Arnold warned selectors against expecting younger players to match the record-breaking feats of Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Muralitharan. ”Sri Lankan cricket can fall into a massive trap if it tries to match the numbers and qualities of these players,” Arnold said.

“We need to find players who can compete, and have a game plan for what we have, rather than look for immediate replacements.” In Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka already have a captain who has made rapid strides both as leader and frontline batsman as was evident from his 102 and 160 during the two-Test series in England in June, which the tourists won.

Under Mathews this year, Sri Lanka drew 1-1 against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, won away series in Bangladesh and England, lost at home to South Africa before beating Pakistan on Monday. Sri Lanka are now fourth in the official Test rankings behind South Africa, Australia and England, and Mathews hoped his side will continue to climb the ladder.

“You can’t replace the seniors, but the important thing is to be as consistent as possible,” he said. “We have a good group who are learning all the time.”

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