Book: Sanath Jayasuriya
Author: Chandresh Narayanan
Price: Rs 295
Of late, Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya has been in the news for wrong reasons: Having been banned from all cricket activities for two years by the Intentional Cricket Council (ICC) after he admitted breaching two counts of ICC’s anti-corruption code. And while that is sad news for Sanath fans, it is difficult not to celebrate his achievements, just like Mohammad Azharuddin’s feats cannot be completely overlooked despite his alleged involvement in match-fixing. Such has been the story of the man, who put Matara on the world map with his blazing batting exploits.
The beauty of any biography lies in how successful it is in going beyond the celeb’s public image and portraying him with all his humaneness and flaws. The book on Jayasuriya works very well on those counts. The humble growing up years of Sanath in Matara are very vividly captured. The fact that his mother travelled 41 kilometres everyday to work as a salesperson at a souvenir shop in Galle is an inspiring revelation. There is also the innocent anecdote of how his mother disapproved of him hitting balls into the neighbourhood temple premises since they came from a devout Buddhist family.
But, the one tale that will find resonance with most cricket lovers is of how he developed the habit of fidgeting around at the crease with his pads, helmet and what not, an aspect that is an integral part of his legend. As the story goes, at nine, Sanath was hardly as tall as the bat and, at times, walked out with oversized second hand pads. Little Sanath had to constantly adjust his pads, and this habit eventually turned into a superstition that everyone saw him perform on television as he made the big transformation to international cricket, a highly successful one after initial years of struggle.
For Indian cricket fans who grew up in the 90s, there will always be a special Sanath connection for he often reserved his best for them. Die-hard cricket fans like me looked at him with anger and awe. That was the kind of impact he had on Indian cricket lovers. The book takes us back to time when the southpaw dominated the Indians. There are obvious mentions of his exploits in the famous 1996 World Cup and the candid admission of Venkatesh Prasad, who had to bear the major brunt of Jayasuriya’s hammering, that he was often clueless while running into bowl against the Lankan opener.
There is also the reference to the legendary rumour that Jayasuriya batted with a spring in his bat, which is why he could hit a ball so hard and long. This hearsay was something, as a kid, we were innocent enough to believe. Even Venkatapathy Raju light-heartedly tells the author that the bizarre rumour made them feel better as bowlers about themselves. Such was the manner in which the hard-hitting batsman tormented India that during the 1997 Test series when Abey Kuruvilla dismissed him for 199 he concluded that Jayasuriya was tired of smashing the Indian bowlers. This was the same series where Jayasuriya registered his famous 340.
Jayasuriya’s biography would be incomplete without the mention of his World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga. The book covers the changing equation of the two legends of Sri Lankan cricket — from the time when Sanath stayed at Ranatunga’s family household in Colombo and the latter had to switch rooms because the youngster snored too loudly to the more recent outburst when Ranatunga hit out at ‘chairman of selectors’ Jayasuriya for dropping Dinesh Chandimal. It makes for intriguing reading.
There are also extensive revelations of how politics and cricket in Sri Lanka are inter-wined, with even allegations of Jayasuriya being forced to select a player who was son of a prominent minister.
However, the portions on Jayasuriya the politician seem like a drag as does the part towards the end about his appearance on Indian TV shows, which reads like nothing more than a recap. That said, such has been the incredible journey of Sanath the cricketer, everything else pales in comparison.