An old man yawned in the stands at Pallekele. India were 109/0 chasing 237 for victory and it seemed like this never ending series was pushing, kicking and burying the limits of boredom. Enter Akila Dananjaya, fresh from his wedding a day before and out at Pallekele to show off in front of his partner. And show off he did.
He bowled googly after googly, that skid off the surface and seemed to head at either the stumps or the batsman’s pads. The Indian middle-order, which had plummeted runs at freewill for the whole of the past one and a half years looked lost, anguished.
Rohit Sharma, who barely gets out between 50 and 264, was trapped in front for 54 as Dananjaya set out on his hunt. Siriwardana gave Lanka a bonus by getting rid of Dhawan in the next before the World came toppling down in the next over. The TRP for this series shot up from close to zero in the next 23 minutes as Akila Dananjaya ran in and bowled like he had forgotten that he could bowl deliveries other than the googly.
Kedar Jadhav, promoted ahead of Virat Kohli to get a hit, was completely befuddled by a skidding googly that beat his defence and shattered his stumps. Kohli dismissed a rank long hop next ball with the kind of brash authority he is known for before another googly saw his middle stump uprooted. Kohli gave a ‘what did you do’ look at the pitch and trudged off not knowing that Rahul would be back sitting with him, undone by yet another googly, (Is he an off-spinner, a leggie or a googly-specialist?) by the time he removed his helmet.
It was complete havoc. The last time India collapsed like nine pins, in the finals of the Champions Trophy, Hardik Pandya stepped out, counter-attacked, made a half-century, spat at Jadeja and walked off. This time he stepped out to try the same but Dananjaya gave no surprises. Another googly, another miss. This time though, it missed the stumps but Pandya was well out of his crease that Dickwella had ages to effect a stumping. Axar followed soon after as Dananjaya completed his sixth wicket.
In 13 balls from this seemingly innocuous, newly wed, leg-spinner, the Indian innings had turned upside down. 6 runs and five wickets were lost as India collapsed to 131/7 from 109/0. This man was responsible for all the destruction. Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera. His name now seems easier to memorize for the Indians as against his googlies.
131/7, with a further 100 required to reach the Duckworth-Lewis target of 231 and Akila Dananjaya still stocking four overs up his sleeve, the target seemed impossible. But MS Dhoni makes the impossible possible. India know it. The World know it. Sri Lanka definitely know it.
Dhoni lunged forward and pushed Dananjaya for singles off the first ball of his next two overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, more than a decent mug with the bat, prodded, nudged, pushed, dabbed and importantly, survived.
Tharanga, the newly appointed skipper, well aware of what happened six years back at the Wankhede in Mumbai, decided to hold Dananjaya back and give Malinga and Chameera a go. Surely not a bad move to try a pacer against Bhuvneshwar.
But he keeps trying that. And continues trying that. Man evolved faster. India’s innings crawled, then dragged but crucially moved forward without the loss of a wicket. Dananjaya was nowhere to be seen.
Tharanga watched as India close in. Bhuvneshwar knocks a single after facing 17 dot balls but grows in confidence as the Sri Lankan skipper decides to continue with Siriwardana and Vishwa Fernando.
With a further 39 required, Tharanga finally turns back to Dananjaya but Bhuvneshwar is enjoying his little cameo with the willow by now. He cuts and then pulls. Two boundaries. And he comes back again with India needing 8. He does nothing. India trudge home by three wickets with Bhuvneshwar Kumar unbeaten on 53 and Dhoni on 45.
One man, Akila Dananjaya, had made a game out of nothing for the hosts. But a mixture of imbecilic captaincy, atrocious field settings and most of all, lack of any kind of support from his teammates, saw all his efforts go wasted. However, for once this drab series took an exciting turn and the fans are grateful to this new mystery spinner from Sri Lanka, Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera.
Remember the name!