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Jayasuriya is Sri Lanka's opening ace
N.Ananthanarayanan | April 27, 2007
Eleven years ago, Sanath Jayasuriya's fierce hitting at the top of the order inspired Sri Lanka to an upset World Cup triumph.
The left-handed batsman's undiminished skills will again be vital for the 1996 champions as they bid to upstage a hitherto virtually flawless Australia in the final on Saturday.
The 37-year-old Jayasuriya's ability to exploit early field restrictions gave the early momentum to Sri Lanka as they went on to defeat the Mark Taylor-led Australia in the final in Lahore.
The current Australian team, bidding for an unprecedented third title in a row, have been far superior than their predecessors after an unbeaten run that has included a seven-wicket defeat of Sri Lanka in the second round.
Jayasuriya, dismissed for 12 in that game, will face the challenge yet again in what is likely to be his last World Cup on a lively Kensington Oval pitch. He has sparkled with two hundreds so far, scoring 404 runs in total.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, a place as a truly great one-day player is already assured for one of the three team members from the 1996 squad along with spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and paceman Chaminda Vaas.
Squad member batsman Marvan Atapattu was also in the 1996 party.
Jayasuriya, hailing from the southern Sri Lankan town of Matara, is the most-capped with 389 one-day appearances. His strike rate of 90.73 reflects his ceaseless batting aggression.
His 11,942 one-day career runs point to his longevity and includes a record 238 sixes. He is also just eight short of 300 scalps with bowling nagging left-arm spin.
However, cricket fans worldwide will wait with bated breath to see whether Jayasuriya can surmount the awesome Australian pace trio Glenn McGrath, Shaun Tait and Nathan Bracken.
That would cap a remarkable comeback from a slump in form and a shoulder injury in late 2005, struggling on a tour to India when they were thrashed 6-1 in the one-dayers.
The talismanic batsman was axed for the subsequent Tests and promptly retired from the longer form of cricket, leaving a question mark over his career.
"It was a hard time I went through, those six-seven months," he said after arriving in West Indies, explaining how a new selection committee persuaded him to return to both forms of the game.
He made a strong comeback on the England tour last year and smashed 152 in the final game for a 5-0 one-day series sweep.
Skipper Mahela Jayawardene hailed Jayasuriya after his match-winning 115 against hosts West Indies.
"He's been brilliant," he said. "He's working harder, he's enjoying his cricket and he played some really good innings, not just the one you saw against the West Indies.
"He keeps going, that's the character of the guy."
Jayasuriya was out for one in Tuesday's semi-final win over New Zealand, having made just one and nine in the semi-final and final of the 1996 tournament.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images