The term ‘they hunt in pairs’ is usually associated with bowlers – fast or spin who bowl in tandem and play an integral part in the success of their teams. Cricket has had some very famous pairs like Larwood and Voce, Lindwall and Miller, Lock and Laker, Trueman and Statham, Roberts and Holding, Ambrose and Walsh, Wasim and Waqar, the list can be endless. The only glitch in those combinations is that all are bowlers.
Sri Lanka who has been in the Test circuit now for well over 30 years never had a bowling combination to match those mentioned although the most successful bowlers in their history were a spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and a left-arm fast bowler Chaminda Vaas.
However Sri Lanka have not been found wanting in the batting department for successful pairs to match those of other nations who have bowlers.
Sri Lanka’s most successful pair of batsmen in the eighties were Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis. Sadly the careers of these two fine players began towards the tail end. When Sri Lanka were finally granted Test status they had already reached the age of 30 but in the few Test matches they were able to play (20 and 24) in a six-year period they thrilled spectators with their strokeplay – one fluent and the other of raw power.
The trend set by these two batsmen was carried forward for nearly two decades by Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, one the captain and the other his deputy. They are best remembered for guiding Sri Lanka to their World Cup triumph in 1996, a win that was to change the face of Sri Lanka cricket. But even in Test cricket they played their part being involved in several match winning or match saving partnerships and setting batting standards for others to follow. De Silva’s ranks as one of the best batsman produced by the country while Ranatunga was a shrewd and fearless captain ready to take on the opposition toe to toe. It was during their period that Sri Lanka matured as a Test-playing nation capable of holding their own with the best.
This pair was succeeded by Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who took the country’s cricket to another sphere and raised the bar not only with their high batting standards, but overall their conduct on and off the field and the manner in which they led their country. Although neither succeeded in winning a World Cup for their country they made it to the finals on two occasions apiece – in the 50-over World Cup as well as the World T20.
While Jayawardene’s batting could be described as poetry in motion Sangakkara not blessed with the same talent that his long standing friend and team mate had worked himself assiduously towards becoming a run machine in all three formats of the game. These two wonderful ambassadors of the game hold virtually every Sri Lankan batting record including the world record for the highest partnership for any wicket – a monumental 624 against South Africa at the SSC.
Jayawardene bid adieu to international cricket at the end of the 2015 World Cup in March and next month Sangakkara who has already quit the two shorter formats but forced to extend his Test career at the behest of the national selectors will finally call it a day, thus bringing to an end a 15-year partnership with Jayawardene that has made Sri Lanka one of the most competitive outfits in international cricket. They leave the game with the country’s cricket in good shape.
“Looking at the dressing room other than myself there is Rangana and there is one more player in his early 30s. The others are young. They have lots of talent and lots of ability,” said Sangakkara announcing his Test retirement date. “You have Angelo (Mathews) who is a fantastic captain and he is the ideal man to lead this team into the future. I wish that there will be a culture of fearless positive cricket where they are unafraid to make mistakes.
“We have to be patient with them. When we are developing a side it will take time. But that investment is going to be worth it. Give them a period of ten months to a year and these guys will come a long way. They are not only going to surprise a few people and prove that expectations are well founded.”
Such encouraging words and an assessment of the national team coming from a past captain and current player is certainly music to one’s ears. Let’s hope and pray those words are prophetic.