Skipper Jayawardene inspires Lanka to new goals

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Kingston (Jamaica):Sri Lanka head into Saturday's World Cup final with captain Mahela Jayawardene having matured into a skipper and batsman worthy of being crowned a world champion.

Jayawardene scored a superb unbeaten 115 against New Zealand in Tuesday's semi-final to help his side to 289 for five and then his positive approach as captain helped his team to an 81-run victory.

The skipper showed an abundance of patience, application and intelligence as he built his innings carefully, not scoring a boundary until his 48th ball before his aggressive stroke play helped his side to 102 runs from the final 10 overs.

The 29-year-old's runs were gained with elegance - his late cuts, dissecting deep extra-point and third man showing outstanding awareness, timing and technique.

Jayawardene once had a reputation for throwing away his wicket with loose shots and indeed at the World Cup four years ago he mustered just 21 runs from seven innings.

This time around he is the second top scorer in the tournament, behind Australia's Matthew Hayden, and has amassed 529 runs at an average of 66.12.

Jayawardene gives much of the credit for his increased confidence and resilience to Sri Lanka's Australian coach Tom Moody.

"I've become mentally much stronger over the last two years, the captaincy probably helped but Tom has definitely pushed me to the limits," Jayawardene told reporters.

"He is not happy when I am cruising, he is not happy with anyone is cruising for that matter, he has pushed me a lot and I have found out that I can push myself a lot further as well.

"I have become a much tougher cricketer in the last few years," he said.

It is not only Jayawardene who has hardened into a top level competitor. His side looks a much more complete team even than the outfit crowned world champions in 1996.

Energised by the slingy pace bowling of Lasith Malinga, inspired by the frequently unreadable spin of Muttiah Muralitharan and still able to call on the prolific run-scoring of Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka have earned their place in Saturday's final.

It says much about Jayawardene's character that even in the midst of Tuesday's celebrations he felt the need to pay tribute to the previous generation of Sri Lankan cricketers who brought the country out of obscurity and into the elite.

"The 1996 group which won the World Cup changed Sri Lankan cricket completely," he said.

"Those guys paved the way for us to achieve higher goals. In Sri Lanka, before '96, cricket was just an amateur sport and those guys went through a lot of hardships, like the guys before them.

"I know for a fact they had to work, come to practice at five in the evening. They did a lot of hard work and we are reaping the rewards of that.

"We are working harder so that the next generation can take Sri Lankan cricket into the future," he said.


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