In the 137 years of Test cricket, only six batsmen have scored with greater consistency in their own countries than Mahela Jayawardene. © Getty Images

In the 137 years of Test cricket, only six batsmen have scored with greater consistency in their own countries than Mahela Jayawardene. © Getty Images

Seventeen years and 149 Tests down, Mahela Jayawardene’s Test career has ended. Unlike many other legends of similar longevity and stature, Jayawardene ends not far off his best, the ‘why’ definitely more valid than ‘why not’. Just two matches ago, he made 165 to almost win a Test for Sri Lanka, a win that would have helped Sri Lanka draw the series with the No. 1 Test side in the world. Just two series back, he played a pivotal role in Sri Lanka winning a rare rubber in England.

Yet, in his own team, Jayawardene’s achievements are second to the most extraordinary Test batsman of the last decade – Kumar Sangakkara (according to Impact Index, the highest impact Asian Test batsman to date). But more on that some other time.

For the moment, here’s the celebration of a man who helped Sri Lanka become one of the toughest – if not the toughest – teams to beat at home.

A lion at home
In the 137 years of Test cricket, only six batsmen have scored with greater consistency in their own countries than Jayawardene: Desmond Haynes, Don Bradman, Doug Walters, Brian Lara, Peter May and Jacques Kallis. Jayawardene’s average of 60 in 81 home Tests includes three of his five series-defining performances – against India, England and South Africa.

Jayawardene’s failure rate in home conditions of just 30% is also astounding, given that 81 is a large sample size of matches.

Conversely, Jayawardene’s overall overseas record is mediocre, except in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (which is one area where Sangakkara scores emphatically over him), though one of his series-defining performances was in England.

A series-defining batsman
In Test history, only nine batsmen have five or more series-defining performances.

These are Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rahul Dravid (7 each), Graeme Smith, Sachin Tendulkar and Sangakkara (6 each), Bradman, Javed Miandad, Jayawardene and Kallis (5 each). Of course, the number of matches they took to achieve these is another matter altogether – and tells a fascinating story – but it’s still a significant fact.

Jayawardene’s series-defining performances (two big performances in a series his team won or a big performance in a series-winning or series-levelling match) are as follows:

1. 374 v South Africa, Colombo, 2006 & 13, 123 v South Africa, Colombo, 2006.
2. 134 v England, Colombo, 2003
3. 139 v India, Colombo, 2001
4. 22, 79 v England, Headingley, 2014
5. 91, 6 not out v Zimbabwe, Harare, 1999

The first of these, when he and Sangakkara got together at 14 for 2 after dismissing South Africa for 169, has to be the most remarkable. Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini were bustling in and the match was in the balance. After Jayawardene and Sangakkara got together, there was no luck for South Africa for 11 straight hours till Sangakkara fell for 287.

Their partnership had been worth 624. Jayawardene went on to make 374. Sri Lanka bowled South Africa out for 434 in the second innings to seal a win by an innings and 153 runs.

The next Test was thrillingly even right through. In the end, Sri Lanka had to make 352 to win. Coming in at 94 for 2 after Sangakkara’s dismissal, Jayawardene led the team to one of the great Sri Lankan Test wins with a six-hour 123.

A world beater
In 2006 and 2007, Jayawardene was the third highest impact batsman in the world, behind Sangakkara and Kallis, amking it the best phase in his career till then. During this period, Sri Lanka won series against South Africa and England at home, drew series in England and New Zealand and lost against Pakistan at home and away to Australia.

In 2014, he has been the fourth highest impact batsman in the world (after David Warner, Kane Williamson and Angelo Mathews). In this period, Sri Lanka have beaten England in England, beaten Pakistan at home and drawn against them in the UAE, and lost to South Africa at home (though they came within a hair’s breath of a draw).

Most remarkably, the last 12 months make up the highest impact year of Jayawardene’s career – talk about leaving on a high.

A true Sri Lankan legend
These are the highest impact Sri Lankan batsmen over the years, ranked in descending order of impact.

Name Matches Batting Avg Career Impact SD Runs Tally Impact Pressure Impact Failure Rate (in %)
Kumar Sangakkara 122 59 2.62 6 1.77 0.19 41
Mahela Jayawardene 143 50 2.25 5 1.57 0.17 40
Aravinda de Silva 91 43 1.96 2 1.42 0.23 46
Arjuna Ranatunga 91 36 1.93 3 1.2 0.24 54
Angelo Mathews 38 53 1.73 1 1.13 0.32 54
Thilan Samaraweera 76 49 1.71 1 1.21 0.21 46
Hashan Tillakaratne 80 43 1.67 2 1.15 0.18 54
Tillakaratne Dilshan 83 41 1.48 1 1.14 0.14 52
Sanath Jayasuriya 108 40 1.46 0 1.32 0.11 56
Asanka Gurusinha 40 39 1.42 0 1.09 0.21 60

Jayawardene is not the highest impact Sri Lankan batsman in any of the categories, though he comes closest in terms of runs tally impact (proportion of runs made in context of match) and partnership-building impact (runs made while at the crease) – behind Sangakkara in both cases. He has, though very marginally, been more consistent than Sangakkara.All Impact numbers between 0 and 5

Minimum Test matches: 30
SD: Series-defining performances
Only Tests with two completed innings have been include

In the end, Jayawardene may be the second-best batsman his country ever produced, but has had a higher impact for his team than the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Wally Hammond, Alastair Cook, Sunil Gavaskar, Kevin Pietersen, Mohammad Yousuf, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh.

Team compositions, team dynamics and historical circumstances apart, Jayawardene’s retirement signals the exit of a colossus.

(Jaideep Varma/ Soham Sarkhel)