Of all the 19 one-day international centuries Mahela Jayawardene has scored, the one he made on Sunday to rescue his side from an potential loss to Afghanistan is arguably the one that could be the most important in his illustrious career.
Jayawardene’s 115 not out against New Zealand in the 2007 World Cup semi-final was a bigger stage, but his 100 kept Sri Lanka’s 2015 tournament chances alive.
Afghanistan were within sight of their fourth victory against a top-tier cricketing nation, but first against any team other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, when he strode to the crease at University Oval in Dunedin.
Sri Lanka were down to 51 for 4 after 12 overs in pursuit of 233 before Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews piled on 126 in a vital fifth-wicket stand.
The 37-year-old used all of the experience he had accumulated in 442 previous ODIs to see off the fired-up Afghanistan bowlers and keep the scoreboard ticking over as he and Mathews inched them closer to the 233 victory target.
While he fell for exactly 100, and still 55 runs from victory, Thisara Perera blasted 47 runs to see them to 236 for 6 and a four-wicket victory.
“It was a tough situation. I had to really mentally be very strong all day,” Jayawardene said. “I could have got out if I was negative and didn’t play my natural game.
“We had to keep the scoreboard ticking, that was the only way we could put pressure on them.
“I wanted to finish the game and my focus was to see us through to the end. But very pleased with the effort [and] I enjoyed that 100.”
Sri Lanka were troubled all day against Afghanistan, who put pressure on them with the bat, ball and in the field, with several run-out opportunities going begging before they managed to dismiss Mathews in that fashion for 44.
Jayawardene, however, felt the tough nature of the victory would only help his side in their next four games in the pool phase of the tournament. “For us to play a tough match like that is good for this tournament,” he added. “It’s good to play a good game of cricket. It doesn’t matter who you play.
“When you are pushed, then mentally you need to be stronger as a unit and that’s what we showed.
“It will be good for us going through the tournament in that if we find ourselves in that situation we know how to handle that. But the good thing is there is a lot of room for improvement. If we get everything right it will be great.”
Defeat was hard on Afghanistan, who looked to have their opponents on the ropes as Hamid Hassan took 3 for 45 runs. Asghar Stanikzai (54) and Samiullah Shenwari (38) shone for them with the bat and their 88-strong third-wicket stand helped them to 232 all out.