Jayasuriya puts Lanka on map
ALVIN SALLAY in Colombo
Sri Lanka, famous for its tea, has now become known worldwide for its cricket too, thanks mainly to the smiling Sanath Jayasuriya who has been dubbed here as the 'Black Superman'.
Jayasuriya might have failed to break Brian Lara's milestone of 375 last week but his mammoth 340 in the first Test against India last week helped Sri Lanka re-write the record books and produce an outbreak of feel-good fever throughout this cricket-crazy country.
The batsmanship of the lithe left-hander with arms of steel had already propelled Sri Lanka to a magical World Cup triumph. Now on top of that comes this monumental innings of 952 for six which overhauled the famous 903 for seven total set by England before World War II.
But fate was to prove unkind to Jayasuriya when he failed to break Lara's record. A ball which bounced a little more from Indian off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan saw Jayasuriya tentatively offer a bat-pad catch to Saurav Ganguly at silly point.
It was a heart-breaking moment for Jayasuriya - his disappointment was plain to see - and for the millions of his countrymen who were glued to television sets at offices and homes. One fan was so upset at Jayasuriya's dismissal that he committed suicide by hanging himself.
'It was a good opportunity for me to break the world record score of 375, but I didn't actually have it in mind. It was very hard to concentrate especially on the fourth day after lunch,' said Jayasuriya.
To put it all in perspective, Jayasuriya batted for two days and a session - 799 minutes. Moreover, he put his pads on after fielding for close to two days. He faced 578 balls and hit two sixes and 36 fours.
At the other end was veteran Roshan Mahanama, whose innings of 225 occupied 753 minutes. They put on a record stand of 576.
Cynics will point out that the wicket was as dead as a Dodo. It was. Concrete hard, you could have driven a container truck over the Premadasa pitch and it would not have mattered.
But even with the easy-paced nature of the wicket, it is still an awesome feat of concentration by Jayasuriya and Mahanama to bat for over two whole days.
Indian skipper Sachin Tendulkar agreed. 'I wouldn't want to take away the credit from Sanath and Roshan because it requires a lot of courage to bat for two days. It is a very, very difficult task in Test cricket to bat for two days. Not many guys in the world have done it.
'Jayasuriya is definitely a world-class player. Mahanama with his technique likes to hang around.' Tendulkar was, however, highly critical of the pitch saying it was unfit for Test cricket and hinted at his disappointment at Sri Lanka's reluctance to play for a result.
'If we had lost the toss and batted second, we could also have played a massive innings. We only lost wickets because we took chances and went for the runs.' Former Australian Test captain and TV commentator Greg Chappell was downright critical of the pitch.
Chappell pointed out that it only hastens the day when rules covering Tests are changed to ensure its survival. This could see an introduction of standards for Test pitches.
'The groundsman prepared an absolute belter which did not offer an equal contest between bat and ball and you cannot blame the batsmen for taking full advantage,' Chappell said.