Andrew Fernando, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, where the title is “Dilshan — Firebrand among saner men“
Pic from odi-cricinfo.blogspot.com
Which is Tillakaratne Dilshan’s best triumphant sprint? There are so many to choose from, even just in the past few years. In a Super Over against New Zealand in the 2012 World T20, he tore around from long-off, reached over the rope, completed a stellar take, and just kept running, ball in right palm, arms aloft. A few months later, he struck a boundary off his 148th ball to move to his first Test hundred in Australia, then, leaping into the Tasmanian air, raced halfway to the dressing room.
His most memorable recent celebration, though, was at the Oval last year. Sri Lanka needed to beat Australia to win a place in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy. The last wicket stand had put on 41, and were 21 away from what could have been a famous comeback win.
Brought on to make something happen, Dilshan got the Clint McKay to push out early, and then the tips of his his fingers reeled in the return catch. In a flash he was up, grin cleaving his face in two, blazing an arc from the bowler’s crease to the midwicket boundary. It was unadulterated Dilshan; the sole actor in the mini-drama. Having done little else all game, he was Sri Lanka’s saviour when they had become desperate.
You can almost imagine Sri Lanka’s team meeting before the second ODI against England. They had wanted to open the bowling with spin, Angelo Mathews later revealed, because someone had a theory that England’s openers would not fancy starting against a slow bowler. Sri Lanka have played three frontline spinners in the series, but before any of them could volunteer for the role, you can picture Dilshan making his appeal – maybe one as loud and unyielding as the shout that earned him a fine on Wednesday.
Is it a surprise that he has become one of the world’s best ODI openers, despite a glitteringly mediocre record in the middle order? The top was where Dilshan has always belonged, where he sets the tone; instigates the action. The chance to open the bowling as well as the batting is a no-brainer choice. He has done the same in all three formats before. He has kept wicket for entire Test series. He roams the vulnerable boundaries at the death. And at 38, he is somehow still an ace at backward point. Is it his huge ego that helps him cover so much ground?
Despite having faced the ploy before, England will not have expected Sri Lanka’s fourth spinner to open the bowling. And there is no better man for an ambush like this than Dilshan. From his very first ball, he was hyping up the plan, throwing hands to head and yelping like the delivery had almost hit the stumps. Moeen Ali had been slightly late on that shot, but in truth, had nearly middled it to point. When Dilshan took his wicket off the final ball of that over, the celebratory sprint was on again, from the bowling crease to around point this time. The hijinks had pivoted on him. As Dilshan soaked in the Premadasa’s affection, Mathews dared not take the ball off him for the full nine overs off his quota.
“The conditions suited spinners and I thought it was a good idea to try Dilshan and it paid off,” Mathews said. “He kept improving every single over that he bowled, so I couldn’t take him out. He was brilliant. The left-handers were also batting – and they have quite a few in their lineup.”
Dilshan has often played in support of his team-mates, but they all know his irrepressible itch to be involved in everything. His solo zooming around after a catch or a wicket, jar with the lack of obvious enthusiasm when he is not a part of the play. He is often the last into celebratory huddles. Sometimes, when he is fielding in the deep, he will just jog halfway, yell out a “well done” and amble back to his post.
“He has always enjoyed being centre of attention,” Mathews said. “He wants to be in the game all the time. He wants me to throw the ball at him all the time. He wants to take wickets. He wants to score runs, and he wants to take catches. He wants to be in the limelight.”
Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara closed out today’s match with a 15th century stand that was a considered, meticulous response to the match situation. They are renowned as statesmen of the game, but though he is older than both, Dilshan will rarely have that tag applied to him. Ever the individualist, never shy of stealing the moment, Dilshan is a firebrand in a top order full of cricket’s saner men
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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