He spends more time on the golf course these days but zealous All Blacks fan Mahela Jayawardene hopes to get some throw downs in the net before turning out for Team Rugby in the 2020 Black Clash in Napier in a fortnight.
"I'm definitely looking forward to coming back and catching up with old friends," said Jayawardene from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, after revelations this week that compatriot Muttiah Muralitharan also was part of the two-pronged bat and ball attack in coach/selector Sir Graham Henry's equation.
While one can only chuckle at what the team talk will be like with retired Rugby World Cup-winning Henry pre-match and between innings, suffice it to say the McLean Park crowd will be in for some star gazing and moments of unorchestrated brilliance during the televised 4pm start on Friday, January 17. The gates will open at 2.30pm for what should be good bang for the dollar for fans who find their fix from entertainment.
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"I'm a huge rugby fan so I'm looking forward to catching up with the rugby players," said the retired Sri Lanka international who represented his country in all three formats from 1997 to 2015. "Obviously I have a few friends there, too, so Beaudy [Barrett] was quite excited there the other day that me and Murali are coming down."
Jayawardene hasn't received any cheeky messages from the cricketing community yet although Team Cricket captain/coach Stephen Fleming had wanted him to play.
"I haven't played any cricket lately," said the 42-year-old with a laugh. "I'll probably have to try to hit a few balls before I get there."
He was always en route to New Zealand as part of the TV commentary team covering the India Twenty20 and ODI series starting late this month. Last year he had done his utmost to be part of the charity clash but had come up shy due to work commitments.
"I don't know whether I'll have time to do all this [net practice] but I'll try to hit a few balls before I come down," he said. "It'll be nice to be on the same field again and mostly have fun because it's for a good cause with the rugby boys so it'll be nice."
The clash is the brainchild of former Black Caps skipper Fleming and Duco Events founder/director David Higgins. The inaugural one at Hagley Park, Christchurch, last year brought fans together to celebrate both codes to help raise money for the welfare funds for the New Zealand Rugby and Cricket Players Associations.
Loosely based on South Africa's Nelson Mandela Legacy Cup — a biennial charity cricket match in which the Springboks take on the Proteas — the event entices predominantly former and current All Blacks and Black Caps. Last year it was reportedly the most watched live cricket event in New Zealand in the past 10 years, luring more than a million viewers.
Jayawardene, who played for the Central Districts Stags in their Twenty20 domestic men's campaign from 2015 to 2017, said while he watched mainly sevens rugby at his home the All Blacks had fuelled his passion internationally.
Barrett brothers Beauden and Jordie, who are in Team Rugby, are his closest alliance. The former had celebrated his honeymoon with wife Hannah (nee Laity) in Sri Lanka where Jayawardene had caught up with him about this time last year. The honeymoon had reportedly started in Dubai.
The couple had got engaged in 2018 in Fiji and had tied the knot at Hurakia Lodge on Rakino Island on January 19.
"We have been in touch since but I've followed the All Blacks for quite some time so, yeah, I've got quite a few friends."
Jayawardene said Muralitharan hadn't played any competitive cricket either because he has been busy travelling with his business.
"He probably doesn't need to [practise] because he'll just bowl with two steps," he said of the 47-year-old legendary right-arm off break spinner. "Yes he is [still quite deadly]. He's still quite competitive."
Jayawardene said Muralitharan still frequented the practice nets with his teenage son, Naren, so his arm won't be rusty as such.
"These guys wouldn't be playing for us unless they had a rugby pedigree," is Henry's tongue-in-cheek take on the illustrious pair, after Team Rugby upset Team Cricket last year. "To have a couple of Sri Lankan rugby players who can play a bit of cricket is going to be quite handy for us."
On a serious note, Jayawardene is the only batsman in World Cup ODI history to carve up centuries in a semifinal and final of the tournament. He was the first and only non-wicketkeeper to snaffle 200-plus catches in both tests and ODIs as well as the most runs in Indian Premier League history for a Sri Lankan (1802 runs).
A humble Jayawardene, whose younger brother Dhishal had succumbed to a brain tumour at 16, has been acclaimed for his personal drive and contribution towards to the HOPE cancer project in Sri Lanka. The tragedy had reportedly affected him psychologically, understandably halting his cricket career for a while.
His highest score of 374 runs against South Africa in 2006 has stood the test of time by a right-handed batsman in the test arena.
For the former Sri Lanka skipper who has picked up countless international accolades, the scoreboard entry of "caught Jayawardene bowled Muralitharan" is the most frequent bowler-fielder combination in test history.
Muralitharan's 800 test wickets will take some beating, if it is ever eclipsed. He had held the No 1 rung in the International Cricket Council's player rankings for test bowlers for a record 1711 days, spanning 214 outings.
In February 2009, after becoming the highest wicket-taker in ODIs as well, Muralitharan had retired from all international formats in 2010 in Australia, a country that had accused him of chucking but officially cleared him "due to an unusual hyper-extension of his congenitally bent arm during delivery".
While he wasn't sure about Maralitharan's plans in catching a flight together, Jayawardene said the pair intended to be in New Zealand a few days before the clash.
All Black and Hawke's Bay Magpie Brad Weber as well as retired Israel Dagg have provincial connections with Team Rugby.
Former Black Cap Mathew Sinclair, of Napier, is the home boy in Team Cricket with current CD Stags assistant coach Luke Ronchi who was born in Dannevirke.
• Team Rugby: Richie McCaw, Israel Dagg, Jason Spice, Ofisa Tonu'u, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Kaylum Boshier, Derren Witcombe, Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene.
Coach/selector: Sir Graham Henry.
• Team Cricket: Stephen Fleming (coach/captain), Daniel Vettori, Nathan Astle, Grant Elliott, Jacob Oram, Hamish Marshall, Chris Harris, Kyle Mills, Luke Ronchi, Nathan McCullum, Mathew Sinclair, plus an international wildcard to be named.