Salute cricket's Bannister
Fastening a seatbelt may not find place in a list of Ten Fun Things You Can Do At 3.30 am. But Sunday night we did just that.
Considering the payoff was a couple of days in Sri Lanka, it was a bargain.
Part of the lure was Colombo's ocean, green and transluscent as a menthol lozenge. Part of it was the delicious ball of chilli paste they serve with fish curry in a food court you are determined to hide from the guy who beat you to that exclusive Sehwag interview.
But mostly it was the knowledge that Sanath Jayasuriya was hungry. Not for the ball of chilli paste, but for his 10,000th run in one-day cricket. A dislocated shoulder prevented him from completing the journey in the previous match against India, and on Tuesday, he must have wanted to get it done with. The occasion, after all, was right. It was the final of a tournament on a pitch that was like his home and unlikely to trouble him.
So at a stuffed, Woodstockesque Premadasa, Jayasuriya landed in five-figure territory with as much flamboyance as Richard Branson, hooking Irfan Pathan for a four so well-struck that the note of bat meeting ball rose over the stadium's cacophony. Jayasuriya was lucky - India dropped him thrice - but otherwise, he gave the Sri Lankan innings some of its highpoints. Nine fours bejeweled his 67. And though he was exhausted towards the end of his knock, he ran a bunch of unhesitant, brisk singles that belied his age.
Jayasuriya, who almost lost his mother to the tsunami, joins Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Inzamam-ul-Haq in the Band of 10,000-run Brothers. The nice thing about the group is that with the exception of Ganguly, it comprises the quiet types. Tendulkar, Inzamam and Jayasuriya are actors on the stage of cricket who prefer their bats to say the lines. Jayasuriya's reserved manner suits the position he occupies in Sri Lankan cricket - that of a senior statesman. Muttiah Muralitharan may score tall in terms of fans, maybe commercials too, but it is Jayasuriya who gets most respect.
Of a mild mien he may be, but on the pitch Jayasuriya has been a hell-raiser. With Romesh Kaluwitharna's assistance, he not only rewrote the testaments of one-day cricket, he gave them a makeover (they probably sent the copybook to Queenie Dhody). As openers, they threw punches from round one. What others did in 15 overs, they did in five. Jayasuriya did to cricket what Roger Bannister did to the mile.
The game became faster, bolder, dangerous. Jayasuriya set a new pace that needed adjusting even for fans. Sri Lanka's league encounter against India in the 1996 World Cup on a windy Delhi day is unforgettable not as much for Sachin Tendulkar's 137 as the beginning that the Emerald Islanders made. Forty-two. That was Sri Lanka's score at the end of three overs in that match. It was insane. There may have been faster starts since, but this was one of the early, pioneering tornados.
Jayasuriya has not just been productive, he has also been good to watch. He is not jumpy at the crease. Part of the reason for this, perhaps, is because he is mainly a front foot player, unless he rocks back to cut or tap - the way he did Kumble to reach 50 on Tuesday - or to pull. Let's accord him a five-figure salute.