Sri Lankan great Mahela Jayawardene has tremendous respect for the legendary bowlers he faced in his heydays but feels a current lot of pacers and spinners is up against better batting units.
Former captain Jayawardene played as many as 652 international matches across formats during a career spanning close to two decades.
At the peak of his career, international cricket was flooded with world-class bowlers, something many feels is not the case now.
“We are yet to see if the current crop of bowlers will hit the numbers that their predecessors did… The present bowlers are probably up against better batting units,” Jayawardene said during an ESPNcricinfo videocast with Sanjay Manjrekar.
On facing bowling attacks across two decades, the legendary batsman said, “If you look at the top 10 wicket-takers in modern-day cricket all of them played in that era (first half of his career).
“I missed out on Walsh and Kapil as I started just after that.
“There was (Mutthiah) Murali ( Muralitharan), (Shane) Warne, (Glenn) McGrath, Anil (Kumble), Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh), Saqlain (Mushtaq), Wasim (Akram), Waqar (Younis), their numbers speak for themselves.
“The bowlers I faced in my career improved tremendously over the years.”
Jayawardene revealed that he started out in cricket as a fast bowler cum batsman and recalled the time when he was allowed by his parents to skip his exams to play in Hong Kong Sixes, a six-a-side slam-bang tournament in the pre-T20 era.
“I was really proud of my parents as that became my stepping stone because I performed well in that tournament.
“In school cricket, I was a fast bowler and batted at number three, but unfortunately, like all youngsters that time we were not put through proper training and fitness program…
“… so later on when I improved and started playing first-class cricket, I had to give up fast bowling because I had some issues with my back. The advice was that I need to concentrate on my batting and not so much on my bowling, so I became a slow off-cutter.”
Speaking further on his move to give up fast bowling, he said, “I took the decision to give up bowling to have an effective career. I was fortunate to not miss a series because of a serious injury. No modern player plays without some type of niggle or other.”
Asked about the illustrious former teammate Muralitharan, Jayawardene said the spin great was a difficult bowler “to convince to do something he didn’t want to”.
“Murali was a champion bowler even though he went about his game differently to others. Warne probably didn’t have the variety that Murali had. Murali knew exactly what he was doing and believed in grinding a batsman down.”
Initially, Murali refused to bowl from round the wicket to right-handers, but once he tasted success from bowling around the wicket, we couldn’t stop him from doing it.”
As the discussion turned to his long-time colleague Kumar Sangakkara, Jayawardene had only words of appreciation.
“He changed the way he batted over the years. Last six-seven years the numbers that he put on the board were phenomenal. I don’t think any modern-day cricketer has done that.”