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Sanath Jayasuriya: Sri Lanka's humble cricketing hero

  • Story Highlights
  • Sri Lankan cricketer recognized as changing the way one-day cricket is played
  • The first cricketer to be a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador
  • Sri Lanka's highest run scorer in Test matches and one-day internationals
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(CNN) -- Growing up in a small Sri Lankan fishing town, cricket changed Sanath Jayasuriya's life. But his association with the game and humanitarian work has also helped transform the lives of many others.

Jayasuriya's stature and shot-making led to comparisons with India's Sachin Tendulkar.

Jayasuriya's stature and shot-making led to comparisons with India's Sachin Tendulkar.

"Without cricket I would have a small job in my home town. My mother is happy to say my name," he told CNN in Hong Kong.

His mother's pride in his success has an extra poignancy as Jayasuriya's fame in some part helped his mother survive the south Asian tsunami on December 26, 2004.

She was swept away by the first wave and only by calling out to get attention, saying she was Jayasuriya's mother, did a rescuer manage to spot her among the debris and destruction and pull her to safety.

Thousands of others, including many of Jayasuriya's friends and neighbors, were not so fortunate, and the impact that the disaster had on Jayasuriya's hometown of Matara and many other parts of Sri Lanka is still felt today.

"Even now when many people hear the word (tsunami), they are still scared. When my mother hears it, she still can't run," he said.

After nearly 20 years of international cricket, the 39-year-old is now just as happy to put bowling attacks to the sword as well as working as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

"Coming from Sri Lanka you need to do a lot of charity work and help in anyway you can. People love cricket and they look to cricketers, so as a team Sri Lanka also does a lot for charity. It's a personal commitment," he told CNN.

Show times

Wednesday, December 17: 14.00 GMT (22.00 Hong Kong)
Thursday, December 18: 04.00 GMT (12.00 Hong Kong)
Saturday, December 20: 15.30 GMT (23.30 Hong Kong)
Monday, December 22: 03.00 GMT (11.00 Hong Kong)

On the pitch he has always been just as committed to helping his team. Making his international Test match debut in 1991, he captained the Sri Lankan team for four years until 2003 and hit memorable centuries against every other Test side, bar the West Indies and New Zealand. He retired from the five-day version of the game in 2007.

However it was in the one day game that the all-rounder has really made his mark.

As part of the Sri Lankan team that won the World Cup in 1996, he played an explosive innings of aggressive shot-making that has been credited with revolutionizing the way in which batsman play the game.

In 2005 he became only the fourth batsman to reach 10,000 runs in one-day matches and his current stats stand at 12785 runs from 421 one-day internationals.

Having made his name in the 50-over version of the game he's still involved in cricket's latest revolution; the even shorter Twenty20 game that is being touted as the future of popularizing the sport.

"Cricket has changed all over the world. For the public to watch this game we need for it to change. You can now enjoy all that in around 3 hours (with Twenty20). The Indian Premier League (IPL) is good for cricket and good for cricketers. The one-day game will be phased down."

Throughout his career he's shown his own resilience adapting to changing circumstances on the cricket pitch as well as off it. Before the 2003 World Cup he took the decision not to sign a contract with the Sri Lankan cricket board, citing the loss of potential earnings it would mean for him and fellow players.

Despite not being a confrontational personality, the tension between himself and the Sri Lankan cricket board led to his resignation from the captaincy in 2003.

With no Test cricket to play this year, Jayasuriya found himself omitted from the Sri Lanka squad for 2008 series one-day series against the West Indies.

However his fine form while playing in the IPL -- he ended its inaugural season as the third highest run scorer with 514 runs and hitting 31 sixes -- convinced the selectors to pick him for the upcoming one-day series between Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

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"Looking back I could never have thought I would have come this far. Buddhism helped me a lot. It says that you should take the middle path and you will never go wrong," he said.

"But I've done a lot of hard work and everyone, my family and coaches, have given me support. Without that I wouldn't have got here." When he does finally retire you can expect Jayasuriya to keep giving all he can to the game and causes he loves so much.

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