Vishal Dikshit, in ESPNcricinfo, where the title is “Sri Lanka U-19s cruise on Asalanka’s force”
Afghanistan Under-19s chinaman bowler Zahir Khan had just taken two wickets in the 27th over to put Sri Lanka Under-19s on a precarious 96 for 5. Sri Lanka had lost five wickets for 48 runs and, with Afghanistan looking to run through the remaining wickets, Charith Asalanka took strike against legspinner Rashid Khan, the only player in the ongoing World Cup with international experience. Asalanka, the Sri Lanka captain, blocked the first ball of the over and then unleashed three fours – a back-foot cut, a delicate leg glance behind square and a cover drive that pierced the off-side field.”I don’t know about him (Rashid Khan),” Asalanka told ESPNcricinfo with an innocent laugh holding his Man-of-the-Match award for his all-round show. “I still didn’t know he’s an international cricketer, only you told me. But I just played the ball. Whoever bowled it, international cricketer or whoever, I just played the ball.”
Charith Asalanka’s counter-attacking game kept Sri Lanka Under-19s ticking over against Afghanistan Under-19s © International Cricket Council
Asalanka, who top-scored with 71 and struck twice with his offspin in six overs, has risen through the ranks of the Sri Lankan school cricket system with a load of runs and wickets to his name. He was named the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year and won the national award for the best allrounder last year while representing Richmond College from Galle, which does not have a long history of producing international players. An aggressive left-handed batsman, he scored 780 runs with the help of three hundreds and four fifties in the 12 matches of the previous school cricket season and missed four matches due to the Under-19 tours. In the 2014-15 season, while playing for Galle Cricket Club, he broke a 30-year-old record becoming the youngest player to score a first-class century in Sri Lanka, at the age of 17.
Asalanka bats at No. 4 and is a punchy strokeplayer when he gets into the attack mode. On a day when the Afghanistan spinners could have toppled a strong Sri Lankan top order, Asalanka counter-attacked with several boundaries even though wickets fell around him. He took 10 balls to get off the mark and then targeted an in-form Zahir with a six to the midwicket boundary and two consecutive fours in his next over.
“I am the captain so I have to play a major role in the team,” Asalanka said. “So I think when we lost quick wickets, I had to change my game and play a different game. When we are in a good position and have lost only one or two wickets then I can play my natural game. When we lose quick wickets, I change my game and play a different game for the team.”
Leg side or off side, back foot or front foot, Asalanka took flicks, pulls, cuts and drives out of his bag whenever a loose delivery was offered to haul the team score towards 200. “I think I have an all-round game, I like to play on the off side, it’s my favourite area. When they bowled on the leg side, then I played on leg side.”
When Sri Lanka’s turn came to defend the total, Asalanka chipped in with two wickets too to remove wicketkeeper-batsman Ikram Faizi and allrounder Muslim Musa and turn the match in his team’s favour. From 66 for 2, Afghanistan were 74 for 4. It was not considerable turn that got Asalanka the wickets. He bowled flattish deliveries not too far from the off stump to offer hardly any room and both batsmen gave away catches to fielders in the 30-yard circle. Asalanka finished with figures of 6-1-18-2.
“From the beginning, I’ve been an allrounder. When I come to the 50-over game I like to bowl flat and be more economical. When I play three-day or first-class matches, I like to give flight.”
With two straight fifties and Man-of-the-Match awards, Asalanka has marshalled his team to the quarter-finals with a game in hand against Pakistan. He is already the fourth-highest run-scorer in the tournament, was second on the charts in a recent tri-series involving India and England in Colombo, and if he can curb his instinct to hole out against spinners after building on strong starts, Sri Lanka’s opponents will have to come up with solid plans to cap this force. Does it have something to do with who his favourite player is?
“My parents want me to become like Sangakkara. And my favourite player is Sanath Jayasuriya.”
Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo