At Abu Dhabi last week, Niroshan Dickwella walked out to bat with Sri Lanka staring down the barrel at 73/5. Another heavy, humiliating defeat seemed to be on the cards. After all, the better half of their top order was back in the hut and with a lead of 70 they had nowhere to go hiding in Pakistan’s adopted home.
But Dickwella, as he has done right through the year for Sri Lanka, stood up and fought, making a 76 ball 40, hardly scoreboard breaking, but worth its weight in gold in that particular situation. Sri Lanka only made 138 but eventually, it proved to be enough as that veteran left-arm spinner spun a web around the Pakistan batsmen.
It was a much needed victory for Sri Lanka after being thumped, across formats, 9-0 by India. They have endured some torrid times in cricket since the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Tilakaratne Dilshan. But if at all there has been a small lit bulb at the end of the tunnel, it has been the flamboyant, flair-filled, dynamic wicket-keeper batsman, Niroshan Dickwella.
The transition phase that Sri Lanka have been going through since the big retirements has seen them plunge to unforeseen lows, but for them to shine and rise to the peaks of 1996 or 2007, they need their young guns to step up and raise their voice.
Before the Indian series, Sri Lanka sunk to an ODI series whitewash against the Proteas but even then one man stood up and showed positive intent and fight, taking on the pace of Kagiso Rabada and even succeeding to an extent with his ‘Dickscoop’ In the T20s, Sri Lanka won the series courtesy Dickwella’s rampaging knocks which totalled 144 runs at a blistering strike rate of 150+.
It is that kind of attitude that Sri Lanka have missed in recent times. Earlier, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana and then later, Tilakaratne Dilshan personified that kind of dare-all attitude.
Although Sri Lanka do have some impressive, talented young batsmen who come up with a blazing knock every now and then, few have been consistent enough like Niroshan Dickwella. When Zimbabwe came to the Islands, Dickwella smashed two consecutive tons and put in consecutive double century stands with Danushka Gunathilaka.
In the stunning chase of 388 in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe, Dickwella forged a fabulous 121-run partnership with Asela Gunaratne, unleashing a slew of sweeps and reverse hits to transfer pressure onto the Zimbabweans.
During his game-changing stand with Gunaratne, Dickwella seemingly wanted his partner to motivate him continuously. “Since he came to the crease, what Dickwella told me was: “Talk to me all the time, and make me score runs.'” Gunaratne said. “I think what he meant was that he hasn’t scored a big Test innings, where I have. He just wanted me to tell him how to handle situations. Sometimes when the game was going a certain way, he wanted me to keep advising him. Occasionally I’d tell him not to go for certain shots. In the end, he stuck around and scored.”
It is this kind of attitude that sets Dickwella apart from the rest of the youngsters in the Sri Lankan side. It had come to the fore even during the Champions Trophy in England earlier this year.
At Cardiff, in a-must-win-game against Pakistan in the tournament, Dickwella stood firm amidst the ruins, combining watchful intent with aggressive stroke play to don an anchor role and guide Sri Lanka to 236 with his 73 off 86 balls. The total eventually proved too low but Dickwella had shown a completely different dimension of his batting.
Niroshan Dickwella time. He against a spinner is a delight to watch… #PAKvSL
— P₹akash $inha ?? (@Predicto_Praky) October 7, 2017
He averages in excess of 40 in both Tests and ODIs since 2016. He is no David Warner or Quinton de Kock, but for a side struggling to find its heroes, Dickwella’s consistency in the midst of a thousand issues is a huge blessing.
At Dubai, in the second Test, Dickwella once again got going, in his own characteristic, counter-attacking fashion, racing to a run a ball half-century in propelling Sri Lanka to a 400+ score.
He may reek the class of Kumar Sangakkara, the elegance of Mahela Jayawardena or the cheekiness of Tilakaratne Dilshan, but in these times of crisis, Dickwella is an angel for Sri Lankan cricket, one to be nurtured, preserved and wrapped in cotton wool.