Rex Clementine, in the Island, 10 October 2013, where the title is ”
The last six years have been an eventful era in Sri Lanka cricket. It has beenan era during which Kumar Sangakkara was considered as the world’s best batsman and most popular cricketer, an era during which Mahela Jayawardene had few peers when it came to tactical brilliance. An era where a little known mystery spinner called Ajantha Mendis humbled the best players of spin bowling from India into submission. It was also an era during which Sri Lanka reached four ICC finals. Furthermore it was period where player agents dictated terms to Sri Lanka Cricket; an era where the IPL undermined international cricket.
Tillekeratne Dilshan, who will announce his retirement from Test cricket today, was a key figure during those six years and his actions both on and off the field left a legacy that will be remembered and set a path for others to follow.
Many thought that Dilshan will be around to play the crucial three Test series against Pakistan in UAE, but he sees no point in hanging around. He finishes his career, having played 87 Tests.
Interestingly, those two men – Upali Dharmadasa and Nishantha Ranatunga – whose allergy towards Test cricket is well known had not cancelled/postponed as many as 10 Tests in a 12 months, Dilshan would have been left stranded on 97 Tests, and he would have been enticed to go onto become the sixth Sri Lankan to play 100 Tests by touring the UAE.
Dilshan wasn’t as fashionable or polished as Sangakkara or Jayawardene. In an era where the IPL was severely threatening the interests of Sri Lankan cricket, we expected more from Sangakkara, but he failed pathetically. The country found an unlikely hero in Dilshan, and it was he who delivered much to the delight of most Sri Lankans.
Dilshan’s elevation to the national captaincy in 2011 was staunchly resisted by some player agents. The argument was that Dilshan was one year older to both Sangakkara and Jayawardene and Sangakkara’s successor had to be someone younger. But with no heir apparent, the selectors stuck with Dilshan.
As captain, Dilshan set an example by arriving in England early, abandoning the IPL riches. His team-mates — with better upbringings – chose to be involved with the world’s most corrupt tournament, going onto miss even a first class warm-up game in England. For Dilshan’s first ever Test match as captain, the national cricketers went in least prepared and were blown away for 82 runs in their second innings.
Dilshan had been in England from the start of the tour. That in fact paid him rich dividends. The best thing Sri Lankan fans will remember Dilshan for is his 193 at Lord’s. Dilshan broke Sidath Wettimuny’s record for the best individual score by a Sri Lankan at ‘The Home of Cricket’, a record that had stood for 27 years.
Lord’s is the place for the purists. With the scoop, paddle sweep and the reverse sweep, Dilshan may have defied the purists and got them to like his style of play, but the British press didn’t fully hail and honour his deeds on and off the field. Partly because Dilshan didn’t speak fluent English, partly because one particular British writer was the business partner of an agent here, who managed rival players.
In Britain, Dilshan was accused of match fixing. Subsequently ‘The Island’ investigations revealed that there was no truth whatsoever to the story, but what our investigation also found out was that player agents were so ruthless that they were prepared to go any distance.
Some of the decisions that were made during Dilshan’s tenure as captain were unpopular ones and certainly weren’t the right ones. Sri Lanka went on a tour of England without naming a vice-captain. The selectors gave in to the pressure that was brought upon them as certain powerful individuals didn’t want to see the vice-captaincy going to Thilan Samaraweera, the most senior player in the squad, after ex-captains Sangakkara and Jayawardene.
But the selectors were in a dilemma when Dilshan got injured after the Lord’s Test. Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Prasanna Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera all refused to captain the third Test at the Rose Bowl. Sangakkara eventually but reluctantly agreed to lead the side in the third Test.
During the same tour, Thilina Kandamby was named as vice-captain for limited overs games ahead of some of the other worthy candidates. It looked really awkward when Kandamby was made to captain the T-20 International in Bristol as Dilshan had not recovered in time for the game.
The dropping of Thilan Samaraweera on the eve of the Australian Test at the SSC was another of those bombshells, during Dilshan’s tenure. But the little known truth is that Dilshan had no hand in these selections, neither did the selectors. Those were forced upon them. There was a mysterious hand at work during these dubious selections. In the end, Dilshan was named as the scapegoat.
There were also rumours that senior players didn’t support Dilshan fully during his tenure as captain. We do not know much about that, but we have an interesting statistic. During Dilshan’s tenure as captain, he lost three overseas Test series to England, Pakistan and South Africa, there was a leading batsman who played all nine Tests in those three countries and failed to score even a single half-century!
As the national team was struggling with all sorts of issues and an extended form of poor run, the administrators were trying to put an end to struggles. Upali Dharmadasa invited a senior batsman to take over the captaincy from Dilshan. After much persuasion, he agreed to take on the captaincy, but not immediately. He said he was willing to take over the captaincy only after Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa, one of the toughest cricket tours.
The deal was set. Dilshan stunned many by leading Sri Lanka to an unlikely Test win in South Africa in the second Test in Durban. That was Sri Lanka’s first win on South African soil. Dilshan attended a media briefing after the tour ended in Johannesburg following the fifth ODI that Sri Lanka won. He was asked about the rumours that he will be replaced as captain of the national team. He said he had no intention of stepping down and was looking forward to the challenges ahead as the captain.
Less than 12 hours later, Sri Lanka Cricket announced that Dilshan had been replaced as the national captain. Upali, for once had kept to his words.
‘Move to opener changed my career’ – Dilshan
October 10, 2013
An incurable opportunist
Tillakaratne Dilshan’s absence will make a young side seem even greener, but what Sri Lanka will miss most about Dilshan is the fire in his bones for seizing the moment, and making it his own
October 10, 2013
104 v Australia in Galle, 2004 The Test will be remembered for Australia’s remarkable comeback, engineered by an irresistible Shane Warne, but Sri Lanka had dominated the first innings, thanks in part to another attractive Dilshan ton. Arriving at No.5, Dilshan used his feet to the dual legspin threat of Warne and Stuart MacGill to compile a more measured innings than he was accustomed to at the time. His 104 from 188 balls featured 12 fours and a six, and had helped establish a 161-run lead which Sri Lanka would go on to squander in the second innings.
100 v England at Asgiriya, 2003 Tillakaratne Dilshan’s second Test ton came four years after his first. After having moved in and out of the team since his debut 1999, Dilshan finally established himself in the Test side with a sparkling 100 from 129 balls against England. He had been left out for the first Test in Galle, but upon being recalled, top-scored for his team with 63 in the first innings, before hitting 13 fours and a hooked six in an aggressive century that set up Sri Lanka’s declaration late on the fourth day. He followed this with an 83 in the series-clinching innings victory at SSC in the next match.