Sri Lankan batting colossus Mahela Jayawardene will become one of the biggest names to grace New Zealand's Twenty20 cricket competition after he was signed by the Central Stags on Tuesday.
Stags general manager Lance Hamilton confirmed Jayawardene had put pen to paper and will join them for the final six games of the Super Smash, and finals weekend in New Plymouth in December if they make it.
The 38-year-old veteran of 149 tests and 448 one-day internationals is comfortably the highest profile Stags recruit and sits up with Muttiah Muralitharan and Brett Lee (both Wellington Firebirds) as one of the biggest names to feature in the 10-year history of the New Zealand T20 competition.
"He's one of the greats of the game - certainly the biggest signing we've had," Hamilton said.
Originally he was pencilled in for the entire 10 rounds but there was a slight hitch in the form of the Shane Warne-Sachin Tendulkar T20 all-stars league at US baseball stadiums, which Jayawardene signed up for. It means he won't arrive until Central's round five clashes with Wellington at Nelson's Saxton Oval on November 19.
It gives the Stags the most imposing top order in the competition, with Jayawardene joining new Black Cap George Worker and the destructive Jesse Ryder who returns to the team where he made his name after stints with Wellington and Otago.
Jayawardene called time on his glittering 18-year international career after the World Cup in March. In 149 tests he topped 11,000 runs and averaged 49.84, and his influence continued in retirement as he was hired by England as a batting consultant for next month's series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
He had mixed success in T20 leagues in England and West Indies in recent months. In eight games for Sussex, Jayawardene averaged 34 at a strike rate of 141, while in the Caribbean Premier League he struggled in scoring just 33 runs from seven innings at 4.71.
In 187 career T20 matches Jayawardene averages 28 at a strike rate of 130, including 28 half-centuries and two centuries.
"He's a world class player and a quality person and we're not too concerned about his stats at the moment. We informed the squad and everyone is pretty excited about having him on board. We're sure he'll contribute in many ways as well as runs," Hamilton said.
The deal was six weeks in the making and was assisted by the Stags' sponsorship from the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Jayawardene will also undertake promotional work for the NMIT which has links with a Sri Lankan university.
"If we were going to go for an overseas player it needed to be someone who was going to add value to the team and the culture, and a big enough name to help us attract some commercial interest," Hamilton said.
New Zealand Cricket will also be relieved the Super Smash has a genuine star name, in the absence of Black Caps test players who take on Australia throughout November, then return home for the first test against Sri Lanka during finals weekend from December 11-13.
The Super Smash already had some gloss removed with the scrapping of the lucrative Champions League which was a huge incentive for the six teams. It also made it tougher for major associations to attract imports without that lure, and made them weigh up whether it was worth the expense of a big name signing without the potential financial rewards.(Stuff)