Nirantha Edirisinghe, in The Island, 25 March 2013
Thilan Samaraweera will never play cricket for Sri Lanka again. Sad, but true, to see such a wonderful servant of the game exit so with so much cricket left in him. In the last couple of months, a lot was written in the print media of his horrendous tour of Austrlia. I came across many irrational comments, some going to the extremes. One such occasion, I saw a letter where it was mentioned that “Why Thilan should not be selected to play Test cricket again.” Maybe it was written by a rare human being who had never made any mistake in his whole life.In Thilan’s own words, in his last interview, he was humble enough to say that the only regret he has is the fact that people will remember only his last shot he played in Sydney. He accepts that it was a wild shot, but throughout his career he gave his best to his country, all the time.
Ever since he was a tiny tot in school, at Ananda College, Colombo, he was well disciplined. When he reached his teens he and two other youngsters were rapidly emerging into the limelight; namely Mahela Jayawardane and Avishka Gunawardane. Mahela was adventurous, flamboyant and graceful. Avishka was a power hitter with superb footwork, while Thilan always mixed caution and aggression in his stroke play, but always valued his wicket. This made him more consistent than the other two. He then went on to win the prestigious award of the schoolboy cricketer of the year twice, which proved his worth.
Due to many errors by the selectors at that time, he was underrated and made his Test debut late in 1998. Thilan scored 14 centuries in his Test career, and two centuries in the 50 over format. Unfortunately for Thilan, the T-20 mania emerged during his time, and the 50 over format was beginning to take a back seat in world cricket.
Thilan could have excelled as another Asanka Gurusinghe in the 50 over format where planning is necessary to built an innings. With the emergence of T-20 the selectors blundered in recognising Thilan only as a Test batsman. Usually, the 50 over format gave opportunities to players who were out of form to regain confidence, where the slam bang tactics were not necessary at all times. This enabled players to regain their form, and do well in the longer format of the game.
In the last three years or so, only Aravinda de Silva recognized Thilan’s worth and named him for the 2011 World Cup squad. By selecting Thilan, Aravinda cushioned Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane to play with less pressure on the field. That masterstroke played a vital role for Sri Lanka to reach the World Cup final. Thilan’s importance was well reflected in the semi-final against New Zealand, where Sri Lanka was in a spot of bother in the final stages. Thilan and Mahela (who came in as a runner for Mathews) guided the team to victory in a very professional manner.
Throughout his career, Thilan never had any disciplinary issues with the management or in the playing field. He was a gentleman par excellence. He always honoured the umpire’s world. He did not have issues such as playing agents, IPL franchise or any other questionable situations. Even after the poor show in Australia, where letters poured in to the print media condemning him, he stayed silent, like a true gentleman.
When Sanath Jayasuriya was selected as the Chief Selector, I felt that justice will prevail, as he is vastly experienced and knew in and out of the problems that players face and the difficult periods that they go through. But when I saw the episode of Thilan being recalled, due to Mahela’s injury and omitted from the first Test squad, I realised where the present selectors are heading. Our past Test cricketers may have been fantastic cricketers in their haydays, but when they become selectors, they are clueless about what they do and simply turn to be a bunch of jokers.
Apart from Aravinda de Silva, who probably made the least mistakes in selections, the rest of the gang has only taken Sri Lanka cricket from bad to worse, and I believe that the worst is yet to come.
We now see the present T-20 vice captain blasting a journalist in a totally unbecoming manner, which highlights the sorry situation of present day cricket. Up to now, no action has been taken by the cricket management in regard to this matter. Maybe the player’s world class statistics are more important than actions of disrepute.
Surely, he is no rookie or a blood boiling teenager to behave the way he did. He has around 10 years of playing experience and if he cannot handle the pressure of the press, then he is no professional cricketer. He failed to understand that it was journalism that took him to the pinnacle of fame, and who knows, the same can effectively boomerang to create his downfall!
This incident is enough proof that gentlemen like Thilan, who had no involvement even in a minor episode, are now out of place in the present league. Thilan now belongs to a forgotten, rare class, and he may not be the first or the last.
Thilan scored a century in his debut Test and never looked back. His century in the Caribbean, the two back to back double hundreds in Pakistan, the fantastic innings of 87 not out in his last outing in England, and the two centuries he scored in South Africa were mesmerizing and will be cherished, eternally, in the hearts of true cricket lovers.
He was perhaps the most underrated Test cricketer in Sri Lanka, but as the saying goes ‘all good things must come to an end’ I guess Thilan didn’t have any choice. He is 37, and with six Tests due to played this year been postponed to 2015 and the Pakistan tour 10 months away, it was certainly not practical for the selectors to omit Thilan from the Bangladesh series. Sadly, another Test cricketer retires ‘hurt’, but knowing Thilan, who is always a down to earth gentleman and a strong individual, I believe that he will walk away with his head held high. As I conclude, I wish to quote the following.
“Thilan, you were a gentleman to the core, throughout your career. You never had the limelight or the fame you should have had, but your commitment to the game was never in question. You were the perfect role model to upcoming youngsters. You led a clean life in cricket and true cricket lovers will always cherish your contributions to the country.
I wish there were a few more like you. Then our cricket will certainly be in a better place today.
Thilan Samaraweera in ambulance with serious shrapnel wound after attack on team entourage at Lahore – Pic courtesy of AFP …. SEE Roberts, Incursions and Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011 ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5