cricket’s greatest bromance – kumar and mahela

A man turns to his mates, clenching his fists and showing his guns in the successful warrior pose. His mate runs up and jumps on him, half hugging, half choking as he climbs up his back. Then the successful warrior walks towards his group of friends to acknowledge their existence. His mate stands behind him behaving erratically and smiling uncontrollably.

Kumar Sangakkara has made a Test century. Mahela Jayawardene is happy for him.

The ball is full and perhaps hinting at moving away. Jayawardene lazily moves into position and wafts at the ball. It is almost the perfect get out shot, except he is so inept he misses the ball. His foot isn’t planted until Matt Prior is about to collect the ball. For a second, Jayawardene loses his grace, the way he makes the ball look slower than it actually is, and goes into dreamland looking for the easy drive. Mahela looks up at Kumar and laughs, Kumar smiles back.

On the balcony at Sugar bar in Colombo, nursing an arrack and coke with a friend, we realised that behind us were Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. My friend knew them, and whispered to me, “Mahela will come over, and be excited to see me here. Kumar will wave from a distance. You have to earn it a bit more with him.”

Two minutes later Mahela came over and was excited to see his friend. Twenty minutes later, Kumar waved through the crowd.

The field is set for a leg-theory examination of Jayawardene. He pulls the first one away without much thought for the field at all. It’s easy and natural, like he’s playing against a kid, not a fired up new era English bowler trying to prove himself. He looks right at home.

Sangakkara faces the same short-bowling leg set-up. A short ball is fired in at him and takes him on the body as he tries to pull. He walks away and rubs himself. He looks angry rather than in pain. The next ball is just as fast, and just as well aimed, this time Sangakkara pulls it away off the middle of the bat between the two fielders set to stop it.

Sangakkara has been in the country for longer than his team. Playing in Durham, acclimatising, working on his game, doing what he has done since a child. Improving and working. He wasn’t the high school superstar Jayawardene was. Sangakkara is what he is as much because of how hard he works, how much he wants it as much as how well he times it. He probably dreams of throw downs and plans for planning.

His place in cricket history is pretty much assured, but England is somewhere that travelling cricketers want to really conquer. Lord’s even more so. And that is what this innings was about. Helping his team is a given, but helping his team at the place they call the “home of cricket”, that’s something else. Especially at a place he is largely revered for speaking at, after his MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture in 2011. Many people have been eloquent at Lord’s, fewer have added 147 in a Test and stencilled their way into history as well.

Sangakkara has placed the ball perfectly to short fine leg and wants three, he charges up and down the wicket. But Jayawardene turns down the third. Sangakkara holds his hands up and asks why? Mahela points to his knee. Kumar shakes his head in disappointment.

Take out the cricket and replace it with a common household chore and it’s almost every argument you see between couples the world over.

Mark Waugh was born playing an effortless flick to backward square leg. Steve Waugh had to wait until he could walk before he first dropped the ball on the leg side and stole a single. Their styles of play complemented each other perfectly. One was hard and smart, the other pretty and effortless. One statistically superior, the other naturally better.

Despite sharing a womb, house and many changerooms, you’d be hard pressed to say they are closer than Kumar and Mahela.

At a sponsor event, Sangakkara was asked to look like he was dressing Jayawardene, for the sort of standard embarrassing athlete photo opportunity. What was already awkward enough was made more so by the fact that people already question how close they are. If cricket had an erotic fiction genre, Kumar and Mahela would have many chapters together.

Sri Lanka is already awash with them as a pair. Want to be as happy as Kumar and Mahela are, drink a Coke and share in their good times. Want to look as smart as they do, get some Emerald suits and you too can look this sharp. Want a great-tasting crab meal, eat at the Mahela and Kumar’s restaurant, the Ministry of Crab, and wear the same bibs they wear.

After taking a break from playing drives so good they make you feel like you’ve just stroked an angora rabbit wearing a velvet glove, Jayawardene batted for lunch. England decided to try one more time at banging away with Plunkett around the wicket. This time Jayawardene was in lunch mode and he just didn’t look right. One sprung up at him, another jagged back, and just for a second he looked rattled. Like the game had been sped up to the pace everyone else had to play it at.

Sangakkara wandered down the wicket slowly, had a quick word, and wandered back. Jayawardene played the next two balls like they were throw downs in the nets. Sangakkara waited for him at the non-striker’s end, then they walked off together.

The cricket public perception of the two is often quite clear. Jayawardene is seen as the cherub-faced batting wizard, often smiling and happy to be doing what he does. Sangakkara is seen as a modern-day cricket intellectual of impeccable morals who will one day be the spirit of cricket’s professor emeritus.

It’s not really true; Jayawardene can get as angry as Ricky Ponting on a bad day. And it’s quick, Hulk quick, often reacting with anger before he has even fully grasped what has happened. The cherub face is replaced with this snarling beast. Yelling is done, handshakes are ignored, and he lets everyone in the area know exactly how he feels.

Sangakkara is so smart and eloquent that he has managed to cultivate a statesman role when, in truth, he is a hard-ass, son-of-a-bitch cricketer who would be just as likely to psychologically destroy you as talk about the great cultural mix in world cricket. Recently he tricked Ahmed Shehzad into thinking a throw was coming in so he could make Shehzad dive to save himself. In actual fact the throw was miles away. Shehzad hurt himself, Sangakkara laughed. His sledging of Shaun Pollock at the 2003 World Cup is still one of the greatest monologues recorded from a pitch. And perhaps even better than his spirit of cricket lecture.

The cherub-and-gentleman vibe is nowhere near accurate and actually sells them short of what they really are: fierce, determined, passionate cricketers who want to win.

The next over after Kumar’s hundred, Mahela brings up his fifty. They meet mid-pitch and give each other an emotional soul-brother handshake.

Mahela Jayawardene has made a Test half-century. Kumar Sangakkara is happy for him.

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