Abeysinghe highlights young talent in Sri Lanka’s succesful tour of South africa

Roshan Abeysinghe, in The Sunday Leader, 29 January 2012

Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa is now history and many changes have taken place since. It’s once again a new beginning with the tour of Australia with a new captain and a new coach and a new selection committee. However it’s important that we revisit the tour again and understand how incredible the last two wins were. For starters it was done without Sri Lanka’s premier batsman Mahela Jayawardane which speaks volumes of the ability of the team. Further it is not easy to chase two scores of over three hundred and win two back to back games, particularly in view of the series standing at that point. It makes one wonder as to whether it was the same Sri Lankan team that lost the series! It also tells me that there is nothing seriously wrong with any individual or the group either. Then why did Sri Lanka lose under Thilakaratne Dilshan they may ask? Then the counter question is how did the very team under the same skipper win so handsomely? In the light of this ascendency of the team were the wholesale changes fair? Hasn’t the much criticised selectors adopted a good selection policy? And if so was it the correct decision to show Duleep Mendis and his committee the door? To a complete outsider, the questions are not easily answered though I am sure for many knowledgeable persons the reasons and answers for most of these questions should have occurred already. I shall not dwell too much on it though some of the happenings on the field seemed pretty questionable and obvious!
But as for the two games it was outstanding! Also it was plain to all that every time Dilshan got a start the team prospered. I must admit that it was the first time I saw Dilshan batting with any kind of freedom during the series. And the two knocks clearly demonstrated the importance he holds for the Lankan batting at the top of the order. The explosive start he gives evidently has a demoralising effect on the opposing bowlers and the key to Sri Lanka’s two victories was due to the rest of the batting capitalising on it. In the first ODI Chandimal and Thisara Perera came to the party and in the second it was Sangakkara and Tirimanne. On both occasions the batting prospered after the good batting at the top by Dilshan and in the final game by Tharanga too.
In the fourth game it was heartening to watch the all rounder Thisara Perera blast the bowling. Thisara will be the first to admit that he had luck on his side, when he had a reprieve off a Parnel no ball. But then luck favours the brave and Thisara did ride his luck and I wonder whether it was pure inexperience or wrong reading of the game by skipper De Villiers when he continued with the spin of Petersen against Thisara. By nature Thisara loves spin bowlers and in particular the ball that turns in to him. The left arm spin was God sent for Thisara who hit some of the biggest sixes in the game. He was in such good nick that he finished the game with a flourish when he straight drove another huge six to give Sri Lanka a memorable win! On the subject of the fourth game one also can’t forget the huge contribution Dinesh Chandimal made. There is no doubting the talent of this exciting young player and he has matured so much that he looks a seasoned player at the crease with his approach and stroke play. He is no doubt a delight to watch when on song and in the fourth ODI too he was on song and one other factor which is very apparent in his game is the level of confidence he has in himself. This has to be attributed to the exposure he has had at the highest level.
Sri Lanka proved that their win in the fourth game was no fluke when they made another score of over three hundred to record back to back victories in the series. It was definitely the right tonic for the Lankans to end the tour. I will refrain from calling it a disappointing tour as nobody gave the Sri Lankan’s a chance to win. The past record in South Africa and the team’s record up to then were against them. In that back drop to win a test match and to end the ODI series three two should be considered creditable. A peep to the past tells us that previous Sri Lankan teams in South Africa have been mauled by massive margins in every form of the game. Hence the ending and the tour wasn’t as bad as what was prophesised by doomsday prophets.
The fifth ODI game was yet another feather in the cap of Sri Lankan cricket. This time it was the turn of one Sri Lanka’s stars Kumara Sangakkara to show up. What an outstanding innings it turned out to be. If there was one disappointing aspect in that knock it was the manner of his dismissal. Surely it was a huge surprise to see him lob a simple catch to the man at long off and walk off at a critical juncture of the game with just few runs to get. It surprised many people to witness the tame dismissal of Sangakkara when Sri Lanka was just short of the line. Knowing Sangakkara who fights tooth and nail, his dismissal could have been crucial had it not been for the maturity shown by young Tirimanne. It was a shame that he couldn’t finish it off but his dismissal was the perfect script for a dream finish in an ODI game. Sachithra Senanayake displayed his cool head with a six over midwicket when Sri Lanka had needed six off three balls. But on the subject of Tirimanne, I am sure his batting display confirmed his quality and coming of age. Up to that point Tirimanne despite his class and promise hadn’t come up with anything eye catching. His arrival at the crease with an asking rate of seven runs an over was a massive challenge and it could have been the breaking point for Sri Lanka had he been dismissed. But to his credit he didn’t just hang around but did play some delightful shots in the company of the veteran Sangakkara adding a century stand for the fourth wicket which was the crucial and the defining moment of the game.
The next biggest challenge for Tirimanne will be to survive in the side as he looks the likeliest name to be chopped when skipper Mahela Jayawardane returns to the side from injury. One can look at the situation in a positive manner as it’s healthy for the Lankans. The biggest negative is the fact that a young player after a solid performance has to be left out. But the greatest plus for Sri Lanka from the last two games is that three young cricketers who are barely twenty two in age contributed largely to the victories. Therefore it’s time that more young cricketers emulate it when the opportunities come their way.

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