Published on August 26th, 2017 | by Sandipan Banerjee0
Akila Dananjaya: Sri Lanka’s brand-new blue-eyed boy
Sri Lanka tend to produce these unconventional tweakers quite thick and fast. From Muttiah Muralitharan to Ajantha Mendis to Sachitra Senanayake to Lakshan Sandakan — this tiny little island in the Indian ocean has provided a lot of mystery to world cricket and Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera is the latest addition to that list.
The 23-year-old came into the limelight on Thursday (August 24) when he grabbed six wickets in the space of 20 balls in the second One-Day International (ODI) of the ongoing five-match series against India. He single-handedly took his team to the doorstep of what seemed to be an unlikely victory at the start of the game. However, the rest of the Sri Lankan bowling unit couldn’t provide the knock-out punch after the Dananjaya show as MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bailed India out of trouble with a 100-run stand for the eighth wicket.
Well, coming back to Dananjaya and his mystery, let’s talk about what is so special about him.
Officially the youngster is an off-spinner but he can bowl leg-breaks as well. Also by his own admission, his wicket-taking balls are leg-spin and the googly. This is a unique combination to have for any offie, isn’t it?
Probably this special trick of his, outfoxed the Indians.
They had no clue what was coming out of Dananjaya’s hand during that initial spell of eight over in which he ran riot in the Indian camp. Four out of the six who got out to him were undone by wrong-ones. He bowled Indian skipper Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav with the googly. Whereas Rohit Sharma fell to the leg-break and Axar Patel fell to an off-break that turned only marginally.
Dananjaya bowled eight overs on the trot, but given his form, one would have expected him to finish his quota of overs. Surprisingly, Sri Lanka captain Upul Tharanga held him back, which proved to be the turning point of the match.
“I realised the off-spin wasn’t helping much. So, I decided to get back to my variations. The target we had to defend wasn’t too much either. So, we had to take wickets. I bowled a lot of variations and it went really well,” the man of the moment said after the game.
The emergence of Dananjaya
Dananjaya’s talent was first identified by Mahela Jayawardena at a net session and fast-tracked to the national team, despite having any First-Class, List A, T20I or Under-19 cricket experience.
In 2011, he was playing tier-three school cricket for a not so renowned Mahanama Vidyalaya when he was called upon for that net session with the Sri Lankan squad ahead of a series against Pakistan’s. He was just 18 at that time and was reportedly bowling leg-spin, googly, doosra and off-spinner during that session. Jayawardene, along with coach Graham Ford, were very impressed with what they had seen and from that point, Dananjaya’s career took a U-turn.
Soon the teenager was drafted in the Jayawardene-led Wayamba United side in the inaugural and only edition of the Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) in 2012 and had an impressive stint. The Panadura-born cricketer picked up nine scalps in six games at 15.55 and earned a call up in the Sri Lankan squad for 2012 World T20 at home. He made his ODI debut against New Zealand at Hambantota on the same year.
“I just wanted to give him a game early on so that his jitters are over. He bowled really well and came back even with a knock. Good that he got a game under the belt. He’s a competitor. When he got hit I went to him thinking he was gone for the game. He said, ‘Shit, I missed that catch.’ And he was bleeding from his nose. That’s his attitude,” in an interview with ESPNCricinfo during the World T20, then Sri Lanka skipper Jayawardene mentioned while talking about the fighting spirit of Dananjaya.
However, with the emergence of Senanayake, Dananjaya’s international career soon faded away. He spent five years out of the national team before coming back in the frame of schemes during the recent Zimbabwe series and claiming a four-for in the series deciding fifth ODI, which, unfortunately, his team failed to win, as they did on Thursday night India despite Dananjaya’s 6 for 54. But the youngster made his mark.
Meanwhile, in this era of technology, his mystery will soon be decoded by the opponents and then Dananjaya will face his toughest challenge. His unconventionality is his strength and the youngster needs to keep on adding new weapons in his armory to remain effective like Murali did throughout his career. Otherwise, Dananjaya too will be lost in the woods like Ajantha Mendis.