Of all the cricketers who have appeared for Sri Lanka since 2011, no one has known a dressing room without Mahela Jayawardene. He is the last link to a less professional era, and to Arjuna Ranatunga’s captaincy. He has played more Tests than any other Sri Lanka cricketer.
As the SSC readies for his farewell, captain Angelo Mathews said the emotions had begun to run high in his camp, for a player whose value far outstripped the 11,756 runs he has scored, and the 202 catches he has held.
“We can’t do his service justice with words. As a team we’re very sad he’s retiring. The best thing we can do is play well in this match and win it for Mahela,” Mathews said. “There are so many things we will miss. He is a real fighter. If you go into a warm-up match with him, he’ll still try to fight and win. That’s the kind of character that he is, and he’s an unbelievable player.
“He’s not into personal milestones. If you look at Test matches this is going to be his 149th Test. He could have played one more Test and retired, if he went for his personal milestones. He’s been an unbelievable team man, and he’ll do whatever the team wants him to do and bat wherever the team needs him. I’m very happy to have a guy like Mahela in the team.”
Jayawardene was Mathews’ first national captain when he arrived in the top team in 20008, and has since been a formative influence as captain. Jayawardene’s primary reason for giving up captaincy in early 2013 was to allow Mathews a bedding-in period as captain while he, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan remained in the side.
“Mahela still he helps me a lot with tactics,” Mathews said. “He’s very smart in his thinking, and he’s shown that in the past when he’s captain as well. He’s not afraid to let me know when I have to do something. He gives so many options. He puts options on the table and he’s the most senior guy in the team, and we’re going to miss him so much. Up to now he has supported me right throughout from day one, and I’m really thankful to him for that.
“That’s the kind of characters that we want in the team, regardless of whether it’s a senior or a junior, I want people to come up to me and give their ideas, so that we can all put our thoughts together and try and pick the best one. Mahela contributes immensely, and he’s been a pillar of strength to us.”
Among Jayawardene’s hallmarks as captain was his support of young players, who were given more respect and responsibility in the side than young players in previous generations had been afforded. Mathews has taken a similar approach in his 19 months at the helm, as he seeks to build a young team.
“Mahela treats the younger guys very specially,” Mathews said. “He tries to teach them whatever they do wrong, to try and correct them. A lot of the youngsters, including me, have learned a lot from him. It will take a long time to replace Mahela, because he’s the kind of player that comes around very rarely.”