James Lawton: Remarkable Jayawardene claims a prize far greater than mere victory

His unbeaten century was shot through with two qualities. One was ravishing technique, the other a humility and spirit seen in his treatment of Nuwan Kulasekara

It fell to MS Dhoni to represent supremely the character of a great competitor reaching out to win. Yet there was another prize available and if it was much less welcome, it still won unforgettable honour for Mahela Jayawardene.

When we look back to a tumultuous day at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, Jayawardene's performance and his demeanour will surely dwarf the usual chasm between victory and defeat.

Of course Dhoni's willingness to carry the extraordinary pressure that gathered around his team gave this World Cup – and India's triumph – an edge and a dignity beyond all the Bollywood-style hype and crazed pursuit of the rupee.

This was an achievement worthy of a place in anyone's pantheon of sport, a place which is never accommodating to anything remotely resembling a cheap victory.

However, the fact that India's win, and their captain's contribution, soared above such status after the swift dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, owed a huge debt to the spirit and talent of Sri Lanka, who were appearing in their third final in five attempts.

Most of all, it was enshrined in the fact that in terms of individual performance the garlands draped around Dhoni's neck might as easily have gone to Jayawardene.

Dhoni won the match and the hearts of his impassioned nation. At times, though, it seemed the 33-year-old Jayawardene had taken hold of something even more prodigious. It was as though he had in his possession some of the very best of sport, more than a little of its soul if you like.

Watching his unbeaten century was indeed a humbling experience for those of us most reluctant to acknowledge there is much chance of anything truly memorable occurring in any of the shortened forms of a great game. Jayawardene did not flail against this prejudice. He simply caressed it to death.

His challenge was in some ways greater than the formidable one faced by Dhoni later on, because the Indian captain was still surrounded by batsmen of proven steel.

When Jayawardene saw his successor as captain and close friend Kumar Sangakkara edge the ball into Dhoni's hands, in a moment that betrayed the perfect concentration and lovely technique that had brought him 48 runs, he knew that a huge burden had come to him.

A superior reaction, you have to believe, would have been pretty much impossible.

Jayawardene's innings was shot through, at times movingly, with two great qualities. One was quite ravishing technique, often when he played the ball so late, so exquisitely, that he would surely have provoked a storm of applause in a bullfight crowd. The other was a humility and a spirit exemplified in his warm and gentle nursing of the late-order hero Nuwan Kulasekara, who must have felt like an eager young student ushered into the study of a revered master.

Soon after hitting a glorious six, Kulasekara sacrificed his wicket in a formal run-out so that his senior partner could continue is surgical gleaning of runs that would take Sri Lanka to a total of 274 – a target that soon became much more challenging when the ferocious Lasith Malinga shot out Sehwag and Tendulkar.

Jayawardene embraced Kulasekara before he left – and in a way that suggested he was commentating on something more than some stirring defiance at the bottom end of a worryingly fragile middle order. He was, it seemed, saying that Kulasekara had conducted himself in a way that had carried him across the normal demarcation lines of win and loss. He had responded to the moment in a manner in which he could always feel pride.

None of this should deflect from a superb Indian resolve to live with a pressure rarely concentrated so fiercely in a single sports arena. Until caught in the last storm of Sri Lanka run-getting, Zaheer Khan bowled superbly, Gautam Gambhir was once again spectacularly resolute and Yuvraj Singh, he of the magnificently sullen demeanour, underpinned his claims as India's man for the most critical situations.

No, there was no doubt about it. From the moment Dhoni promoted himself in the order and said that it was time to expunge all questions about India's right to claim their second World Cup, there was an authority about the team who have waxed so strong and so wealthy these last few years. Yes, they had pressure as much as anyone could ask of first-rank professionals, but they also had a depth of talent and, understanding that this was a day on which all their credibility depended, that in end permitted only one result.

But then what losers we had on the premises – and what a performer in Jayawardene, whose expression in the post-game ceremonials spoke so eloquently of the frustration that comes when you do everything within your power and you are still separated from victory.

Perspective, though, is rarely beyond the reach of a man who lost a young brother to a cancerous brain tumour, a hurt so devastating that for a while the rewards of cricket scarcely seemed worthwhile. Another time of crisis came in Pakistan two years ago when he was one of seven Sri Lanka players injured in a terrorist attack which also killed six policemen and two civilians. Jayawardene passed the captaincy to Sangakkara – soon after scoring a double century.

Now he captains the Kerala Tuskers in the Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 playground for millionaires, but plainly at no cost either to a marvellously fluent technique or any understanding that there is another life and death beyond the boundary ropes.

One consequence is Jayawardene's high-profile role as the leader of a campaign to build Sri Lanka's first hospital devoted exclusively to the treatment of cancer.

Another was the superb bearing and equilibrium that brought him such distinction on a day of defeat. Victory and defeat, said Kipling, are twin imposters. If he hadn't, Mahela Jayawardene would surely have confirmed that it was so.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power