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Jaya adds to Indian worries

India have often been at the receiving end of some fearful thrashings that Jayasuriya has handed out, and the blows of the Asia Cup final will still be fresh in Indian minds, reports Anand Vasu. Special Coverage: Mission Sri Lanka

cricket Updated: Aug 17, 2008 00:59 IST
Anand Vasu

If India's theme moving from Tests to ODIs is drastic change - virtually the whole squad is different, the captain is different, even the manager is different - then Sri Lanka's theme is continuity.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis are the twin spin threats in both forms and the batting is built around two pillars, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. But if there is one dramatic difference, it is in the form of Sanath Jayasuriya, who has given up the longest version of the game but still strikes fear in opposition bowlers in ODIs. India have often been at the receiving end of some fearful thrashings that Jayasuriya has handed out, and the blows of the Asia Cup final will still be fresh in Indian minds. After being involved in an early mix-up that saw Sangakkara be run out by some way, Jayasuriya decided to make amends. Even as India's bowlers carved into the Sri Lankan top-order, reducing them to 66 for 4, the game was not lost for Jayasuriya.

The combative left-hander batted on a different plane from the men attempting to partner him, hitting five sixes and nine fours on the way to a 114-ball 125 that formed 45% of the team's runs. Without Jayasuriya Sri Lanka would never have reached a score that would trouble India, but after he fired, they were transformed and the choke-hold of Ajantha Mendis bowled them to a 100-run win.

While handling Mendis has been the big priority for the Indians till now, when the first ODI gets under way on Monday they will have Jayasuriya to contend with. With Ishant Sharma missing from action, the extra pace and bounce that might have posed problems for Jayasuriya are out of the way. Jayasuriya's opening battles with Zaheer Khan, who has a reputation of bowling well to left-handed batsmen, will be crucial. If Jayasuriya can get the better of the early skirmishes he will find the pace of Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel to his liking.

The manner in which Jayasuriya bats, as much as the runs he scores, has a demoralising effect on the opposition. He scores rapidly, and not with cheeky innovations or cute dabs to unorthodox areas. Using his powerful forearms to maximum possible effect, Jayasuriya has the ability to hit the good balls for boundaries, and with the fielding restrictions in place in the first 15 overs, if he is not dismissed quickly, the question of trying to contain him does not arise.

If the opening of Michael Vandort was the one weak link for the Sri Lankans in the Test series, they go into the ODIs in the full knowledge that one of the most destructive ODI openers of all time will set the tone for them. In the normal course you would expect that playing cricket for an extended period of time would slow your reflexes and weaken your limbs, but even at 39 Jayasuriya shows no signs of slowing down. Dropping out of Test cricket has, no doubt, extended Jayasuriya's career in ODIs, but apart from the fact that he does not bowl as much of his canny left-arm spin now as before, there are few concessions that Jayasuriya makes. Those who have known Jayasuriya closely over the years attribute this to a near mania for fitness and careful control of his diet.

Speaking at the sidelines of a promotional event recently Jayasuriya appeared well-rested and keen to get into competition. "It will be an exciting series. Yes, we have beaten them in the Tests, but complacency is the last thing we want to see," he said. "Their pride will be hurt, so they'll want to make sure they go home with a win in the one-dayers." At the same time Jayasuriya banished the notion that he might be rusty, just because he does not play Test cricket any more. "There hasn't been any domestic cricket, so I haven't spent time in the middle," he conceded. "But that's part and parcel of the game. You've got to be prepared for the challenge. These are the demands of international cricket."

With 526 appearances for Sri Lanka under his belt, you better believe Jayasuriya when he says he knows what the demands of international cricket are. The question is, can India's bowlers ask Jayasuriya questions that he will struggle to answer?