I was in Sri Lanka in mid-1997 on research work but took time off to watch an ODI match between the Indian XI led by Sachin Tendulkar and the Sri Lankan side led by Arjuna Ranatunga on July 18th. One distinct memory is that of a relatively unknown player named Lanka de Silva batting in an uncomplicated, neat manner to support Arjuna and finalize Sri Lanka’s charge to victory.
On checking the Cricinfo figures for this match on the 18th July 1997 one will find that India scored 227 for 6 wkts in their allotted 50 overs; and that Sri Lanka at one stage were four down for 125. That was when Lanka de Silva walked in and supported the masterful batting by skipper Arjuna that enabled the Lankans to reach their target in the 45th over, with Arjuna 134 not out (in 152 balls) and Lanka at 37 (in 47 balls). Note, here, that Lanka’s scoring rate was only a trifle slower than Arjuna’s: his runs being accumulated at 75.51 in comparison with Arjuna’s 86.18.
It was no mean supporting act …. hence perhaps its installation within my memory bank.
But how many Sri Lankan cricketing aficianados have Lanka de Silva etched in their memory? Why has he faded away?
It was Romesh Kaluwitharana’s ‘fault’ of course. He slotted back in as wkt-keeper batsman when he recovered from the illness or injury that kept him out. This meant that Lanka’s career in the national side amounted to 3 Test matches and 11 ODIs.
But mark this: his ODI batting stats read as follows: 11 matches, 6 inns, 161 runs, average at 53.66 and s/r at 83.41. A closer study will indicate that three not outs bolstered his average – while indirectly underlining the capacities of the squad under Arjuna.
Like me, not many will be aware that Lanka continued to play cricket in the domestic first-class circuit till 2012 – mostly for the CCC. He has since turned to coaching and is presently an Assistant Coach under Harsha De Silva in the Sri Lankan Women’s Squad participating in the T20 World Cup for Women. I banged into him at the tail-end of a warm-up match in Adelaide – so that the filling out of his career path is based on a phone-chat (an unsatisfactory medium).
Lanka, the Kurunegala Provincial Man
From 1948 the pool of Sri Lankan cricketers at the highest level has been dominated by personnel drawn from the Colombo-Moratuwa axis. In more recent times players from (A) the Ambalangoda-Galle-Matara nexus and (B) from Kandy have also hit the limelight. Only a few from the old Udarata towns of Matale, Kegalle and Kurunegala have penetrated the highest echelons of cricket: Mahes Goonetilleka and Paranavithana (Kegalle); Welagedera (Matale) and Madurusinghe, Rangana Herath & Lanka De Silva (Kurunegala) constituting the handful in my possibly fallible memory….. with Herath the most prominent performer of the lot.
This renders Lanka’s career greater weight when one is assessing such stories. As usual, the platform was built on his schooling: he attended St Anne’s College Kurunegala where the coaches were Bro. Ignatius and Nishantha Perera. He bowled off-spin at U13 and U15 levels, but when their keeper was injured he turned his hands into this task. He then played for the Kurunegala Youth Cricket Club in the early 1990s. When he secured a job in the Seylan Bank, Shammi Silva of the CCC persuaded him to join that club in 1997(?) – a club where Michael Vandort, Jehan Mubarak, Indika Gallage and Anuruddha Polonowita were among his colleagues.
With openings in the highest level of Sri Lankan cricket foreclosed to him by the presence of abundant talent, the good offices of David Cruse of the Knox Tavern enabled him to move to Melbourne in 2002 for a spell of cricket in the middle-level leagues there. But he eventually returned to the domestic circuit in Sri Lanka..
And, wow, check his figures over that period of twenty years:
He has topped the 10,000 runs barrier …. And achieved that goal with a healthy average of 40.99. I will leave it to the statistical whiz-kids to indicate how many of our cricketers reached those heights between 1981 and today.
Now, Lanka’s goals are set by his recent appointment as an Assistant Coach to the Sri Lankan Women’s Team. I gather his special task has been directed towards sharpening up the fielding: with Harsha de Silva a training plan was drawn up. The several sharp catches taken in front of my eyes during the warm-up game vs England in Adelaide suggested that the intentions were working out – but, THEN, as so often in life, the dropped catches vs Australia in Perth have shattered that notion.
C’est la Vie. ….. and is that not the story of many a cricketer and of cricket in general.
 Note that the following batsmen were slotted to follow Lanka: Kalpage, Dharmasena and Vaas – handy batsmen all.