Andrew Fernando, in ESPNcricifo, 24 August 2019, where the title is “Dhananjaya de Silva is cooler than you”
So you think you have style. People compliment you on your outfits. You’re at a high-end hairdresser a couple of times a month. In between the visits, there is never a strand out of place. When you go out, you order the classiest drinks – spirits, neat. Your vehicle is the envy of your peer group, washed, waxed, vacuumed, scratch-free: immaculate. At weddings, you’re cutting up the dance floor, admirers staring from all corners of the room, the bride and groom feeling thoroughly outshone. It’s understandable. You are convinced you are smooth in civilian life. You think you’re the shit. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re no Dhananjaya de Silva.Next to him on a cricket field, you’re trash.
The P Sara Oval is among the most testing venues on the planet, for batsmen. There’s a bit of pace, a bit of bounce, a bit of seam and swing, a bit of spin, and a lot of wickets. It’s been 16 years since the last drawn Test at this venue. De Silva arrived into a 93 for 4 situation, which quickly deteriorated into a 130 for 6 situation. A century from a No. 6, from here, would generally have to be gritty, and if you’re batting with the tail, farming the strike, and pushing the score out to much further than it should have got, your innings has got to be tenacious, right?
But you’d never use these adjectives for this de Silva innings. You’d never use them for any de Silva innings. He slinks down the pitch, long-sleeved, limbs relaxed, a stream meandering in paddies. He strokes a lofted four over cover, raps gloves, goes back, slouches into his stance. Against the quicks, in this innings, he was majestically languid. They kept trying to bounce him. He kept hooking them casually for six.
There is no more casually graceful player right now, because every act, even the mistakes, are imbued with an air of indifference. So he nailed that shot but it went straight to the fielder. No big deal. There’s another ball coming. So he dropped an offbreak short and the batsman bashed it for four. Relax. It’s just cricket. Nobody died. This is merely superficial, of course, because deep down, he genuinely cares. He was yanked up and down the order like a marionette for years – a process that sent his batting average into a nosedive. In the meantime, he improved his bowling to such an extent that he began being picked primarily for his offspin in limited-overs cricket.
In the field, Sri Lanka have no one else of his quality – a player who can be reliably deployed almost anywhere. He rides the boundary like an Old West outlaw passing on a mustang through the middle of a dusty town. When he is in the slips, it is less a cordon, more a Sunday afternoon hangout sesh in a coconut grove. He leaps, catlike, to make another a spectacular save at point, and when teammates rush up, he holds out his palm out for only lowest of low-fives. It’s cool, fellas. Just a saved four. Don’t lose your minds.
Then he’s called up by the captain to send a few overs down. There are spinners who wear sunglasses when in action. Sometimes they even look suave. De Silva doesn’t need the shades. His action isn’t classical, but like with everything he does, it seems entirely effortless. You know in your mind that he’s participating in an elite sport, and in some spells, like the one in Port Elizabeth in February, making vital contributions to an eventual victory.
You understand that to get to this level, there must have been sweat and sacrifice. But aesthetically, de Silva has his feet up, in a hammock. Later in the day, Tom Latham produced a hundred that was objectively more impressive, because unlike de Silva he had not been dropped in single figures, and there were far fewer edges for four behind the wicket, but Latham is basically the anti-de Silva – he always looks like he’s hard at work.
Occasionally de Silva held the pose after a cover drive, but where this, for other batsmen, is their most visually pleasing state, de Silva is just as nonchalantly glorious when in actual motion. Like he is made of liquid rather than flesh and bone.
Maybe you are an important person. Maybe you fight for human rights, help protect the environment, drive your nation’s economy, make decisions in parliament, pass judgement in court. De Silva is only a cricketer, but he would look way cooler than you doing any of that.