Mahela Jayawardene must dig deep to help Sri Lanka win the second match © Getty Images
Mahela Jayawardene must dig deep to help Sri Lanka win the second match © Getty Images

Mahela Jayawardene has the opportunity to help Sri Lanka script something historic at Headingley, writes Nishad Pai Vaidya.

For years, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have kept the fans engaged in a debate as to who was the greater of the two? Both batsmen are easy on the eye and a joy to watch on their day. Sangakkara plays with the silken touch and has the typical grace of a left-hander. Jayawardene is well-balanced and has time on his hands to play his strokes.

However, Sangakkara trumped his mate when it came to overseas tours with better performances. Even on the ongoing tour to England, he was the toast of the town with some fantastic scores. However, with the second Test evenly poised at Headingley, Jayawardene holds the key for Sri Lanka, and therein lies the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on England.

Jayawardene’s overall Test average is a fantastic 50.30 (at the time of writing, with him unbeaten on 55 in the second Test). But, what it doesn’t reflect is the huge gulf between his home and away numbers. On Sri Lankan soil, he is a dominant force with an average of 61.12. And, his away average is languishing in the early 40s. This huge gap shows that he hasn’t quite replicated that artistry in more testing, alien conditions. Zimbabwe is the only country where he average over 50 outside the subcontinent. In England, Jayawardene averages 36.38 in 12 Tests with two tons and four fifties (including the Headingley Test).

Though Jayawardene’s record in England isn’t great, six fifty plus scores do show that he did find some consistency. It was just that there was a small period where he struggled that his record took a beating. And, his two tons, both at Lord’s so far, will remain etched in memory.

Who can forget his battling 119 at the Mecca of Cricket in 2006? As Sri Lanka were made to follow on, Jayawardene scripted an epic that kept the England bowlers out and guided Sri Lanka to safety. Under fading light, it was an epic that was to inspire confidence in Sri Lankan cricket. That turned their fortunes around as they had a successful tour that summer and then extended that run of success into the 2007 World Cup. That was a true captain’s hand.

Eight years on, Jayawardene is in similar circumstances with a young side gradually impressing in world cricket. They drew the first Test with some good character and now the second hinges on the contribution of this man. This game should have a result with two days to go, barring inclement weather. Jayawardene has this opportunity to replicate the heroics of 2006 and inspire a victory. Back then, a draw was like a win for a Sri Lankan side searching a platform. This time, they are well settled and look good to push for it. It is not only a chance to script something historic, but also one for Jayawardene to silence the naysayers for the time being. During the ICC World T20 2014, Sangakkara put the icing on the cake. Will Jayawardene add those miles away in Yorkshire?

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)