The Sanath Jayasuriya episode is really intriguing. At one time he was the world beater who re-shaped the shorter version of the game, approach-wise. His bashing at the top of the innings even prompted the custodian of the game -- the International Cricket Conference -- to introduce new padding to the system.
Way back in 1996, Jayasuriya had the whole world by its scruff. When bowlers got wiser to his demeanor and found chinks in his armour he adopted to new ways of countering them. He learned that every bowler is not his bunny and learned to pick certain bowlers and murder them.
He had the talent and the respect of the opposition and so much so he became one of the most feared batsmen ever to occupy the box within the popping crease.
Jayasuriya is no Dorian Gray. Though feared by the opposition, the enemy within him called age which governs his eye-ball co-ordination gradually decided that the law of averages has to take its own course. The result was that even though his natural ability knew what he should do to a particular ball, his aging eye-ball co-ordination began to let him down.
Jayasuriya refused to accept reality, but those who watched him within and outside the boundary were getting increasingly anxious because at stake was the integrity and the fortunes of a leading cricket playing nation.
Then reality arrived and D-day came; Jayasuriya was unceremoniously dropped from the national side and even selection committee chairman Aravinda de Silva had only a few words to say about Jayasuriya’s omission and at the end, the great man had become – ‘Johnny next door’. Not a single eye-brow was lifted on the day when they read about the national squad for the Asia Cup… sans Jayasuriya’s name.
In reality it was the threesome of Jayasuriya, Muralitharan and Vaas that took Lankan cricket to the next level after the initial push from the likes of Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Asanka Gurusinha and Roshan Mahanama.
The three cricketers graced the green together, exploited the strengths of their colleagues and put their own ingenuity into the fray and took the game to the big boys on the field on their own terms.
If not for the talent of these three cricketers we would have been still struggling like present-day Bangladesh looking for the winning combination.
From the time that Chaminda Vaas bumped the Kiwis in their own den and bowled the Lankans to their maiden overseas victory in the 1994-95 season, the world saw the potential match winner in this left-arm seamer. In fact, of the trio, it was Vaas who came into the focus in big time cricket. Then in the post ’96 era, Vaas became incomparable and grew to become the most successful left arm seamer in the wake of legendary Pakistan paceman Wasim Akram’s exit from big time cricket.
When Vaas took 26 wickets in the 3-0 rout of West Indies, he became only the second fast bowler, after Imran Khan, to take 14 wickets in a match in the subcontinent. He then went on to take the first-ever ODI eight-wicket haul, against Zimbabwe, which included a hat-trick. He also claimed a hat-trick with the first three balls of the match against Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup.
If you try to analyze the greatness in this cricketer you will have to write a book. As it is Vaas has retired from Test Cricket and kept his options open for the shorter version of the game, but it is unlikely that he would be recalled from his resting place before Vaas’ targeted the date of World Cup 2011.
In his final days out in the international arena, the world saw Vaas struggling and the wickets were not coming to him as easily as they did before and the selectors did not hesitate for a moment to ease him out of the scene.
It was easy for the selectors because Vaas was not in the habit of playing the telephone game and praying upstairs besides the good Lord that he believes in.
Though Vaas is not among the books of the selectors yet he is in the hearts of the public because even recently a scribe inquired from the chairman of selectors about Chaminda Vaas.
Good! That is the Vaas we like to remember and not Johnny next door.
Finally by any standard the right arm unorthodox off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is a legend and there may not be another like him even in the distant horizon. He is unique and his legend will live on as long as cricket lives.
He is the highest wicket taker in both forms of the game and the record is going to remain the same for a long time more.
However even Murali is not Dorian Gray. At the age of thirty eight he is wiser but not younger. Yes, we too would like to see him going on till the next world cup. But it has to happen by the high standards that he has embedded against his name and not an aging fake struggling at the middle.
What happened on the eve of the Asia Cup final is still a worrying one. There is no point in sending in public statements denying about something that has happened. Those insiders will know exactly what happened that evening and what transpired later on. But the end result was Sri Lanka fell by the wayside in the final.
We like to ask if there was any link between that incident and the final result of the Asia Cup 2010.
Evidently even at the Asia Cup final he played, the opposition still respected him. But, yet there was a huge void that was very noticeable. Still, one does not drop a person with the curriculum vitae of Muralitharan just like that.
At the same time, Sri Lanka cannot take a struggling Muralitharan to the next World Cup if he is not performing at his peak just for the plain and simple reason it is not good for the image of that great man.
In the greater interest of national cricket if there are cricketers who can be more effective and drive the Lankan cause at this time of the day, the scale should tilt in that direction. But, how and who is going to bell the cat?
Sri Lanka needs the legend to be the legend and spoken of till the end of time. There is not going to be another Muralitharan in history, but there will be millions of Johnnies next door.