Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 19th 2014 Contents A57
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Mahela Jayawardene has always been about the people within and around the game © AFP
To the people who have loved him,
Mahela Jayawardene has never
seemed like an A-lister.
Almost 20 years after he became a
celebrity, he has remained, unmistak-
ably, a man of the people
When Jayawardene was a teenager,
the locals in towns he played in would
sometimes shut up shop, and flock to
the ground to watch him play. In the
early years he had not figured out he
was the reason the crowds had swelled.
Eventually the truth dawned upon him.
As he said farewell to Test cricket,
the thousands who had come to the
SSC to see him off were allowed on to
the ground, to form a giant huddle
around their hero. There were warm
embraces with his proud, emotional
parents, his wife and daughter, his
team-mates, and one quiet moment
with his great partner-in-crime, Kumar
Sangakkara. But on the day where he
was the most wanted man in town, he
still looked up every few moments to
give his crowds a joyful wave.
He has been a world-class cricketer,
admired the world over, mixing with
presidents, meeting with royalty, and
carousing with the wealthy and well-
known. But to the people who have
loved him at home he has never seemed
like an A-lister. Almost 20 years after
became a celebrity, Jayawardene has
remained, unmistakeably, a man of the
Perhaps he has enjoyed those inter-
actions most of all. He has posed for
tens of thousands of pictures, signed
countless caps, bats, notebooks and
Yet instead of being ground down
by the hubbub, Jayawardene has been
buoyed by the public s love and admi-
ration. He never fails to respond when
a fan quips with him, rarely forgets to
flash that wide smile when someone
shakes his hand.
On a charity walk last year, a boy of
no more than nine had waited for
Jayawardene to come past since 5 am,
so Jayawardene met him warmly and
walked with him for as long as the
youngster could come.
He has always had that magic about
him: that air of approachability and an
easy, affectionate way. In a northern
town last October, a group of squirming
kids milled around metres away, a little
too shy to approach. So he went to
them instead, dropping to his haunches
to flash that grin, eye-to-eye.
"Playing for Sri Lanka is such a spe-
cial thing because of the fans, and the
way they support us," he said after
stepping off the Test field for the final
time. "I have played with a lot of pride
and passion, and that s the same pas-
sion that the fans have, and the same
passion that the entire nation has. It s
quite easy to play for a country like
On Twitter, players from all around
the world, from Kevin Pietersen to
Adam Gilchrist to Harbhajan Singh,
whom Jayawardene had scored many
runs against, sent their tributes through.
At the SSC, he had an unusually warm
guard of honour when he came to bat
for the last time. Even after having lost
the series 2-0, Pakistan s players were
joking with him on the boundary.
Jayawardene has played the game
with passion and intensity, but he has
always been about the people within
and around the game as well.
Cricketers across the spectrum, from
the freakishly talented to the most
working-class, claim he is the best cap-
tain they have played under. He has
ruffled plenty of feathers as well, but
his public interactions reveal a little of
why he is such a highly rated leader.
"When I look back at my time with
the Sri Lanka team, those memories
are beautiful to me," he said. "We always
played with a lot of joy, and a lot of
good things happened to me personally,
because I became a Sri Lanka cricketer.
was also my passion. I appreciate every
moment I had. It s a privilege to be in
the Sri Lanka dressing room."
There will be days when Sri Lankan
cricket will feel Jayawardene s absence.
They may miss him if Sri Lanka crum-
ble on one of the bone-dry pitches that
were his specialty. Fans might want for
a player whose innings they can happily
watch for hours, on loop.
Sangakkara might get bogged down,
and yearn his old friend to reverse the
pressure at the other end. Angelo Math-
ews will almost certainly miss his tac-
tical advice on long, tough days in the
But Jayawardene is gone now, 149
Tests into his career, six catches short
of the Test record, 0.16 below that
vaunted average of 50. But at least his
team can be happy they gave him this
last occasion among the people whose
days he had filled with joy, and who
had given him joy in return.
"I have played with a lot of pride and passion, and
that's the same passion that the fans have, and the
same passion that the entire nation has. It's quite
easy to play for a country like that." Mahela
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