There are few players as unlucky as Dhananjaya de Silva in Sri Lankan cricket at the moment. The flamboyant all-rounder was a vital player in Lanka’s Test series whitewash at home against Australia last year. He topped the run charts and alongside Kusal Mendis was Sri Lanka’s standout player of the series.
Yet, less than a year after his feat, de Silva found himself dumped rather unceremoniously by the Sri Lankan selectors ahead of the one-off Test against Zimbabwe at home. The omission was glaring on two accounts.
- Dhananjaya de Silva had a superb record against the Zimbabweans, notching up a ton and a half-century in four innings’ against them.
- Although his scores prior to the series weren’t over the top, he was one of the most technically equipped among Sri Lanka’s newer crop of players.
From then, de Silva’s appearances have been sporadic in the Sri Lankan side. He was even considered an apt replacement for Tilakaratne Dilshan at the top of the order in ODIs and did an admirable job opening the innings. Yet, the selectors weren’t convinced and resorted to destroy his confidence by juggling him in and out of the side.
In the Indian tour, despite being picked in the squad, Dhananjaya de Silva found no takers in the first two Tests with Lahiru Thirimanne’s tried and tested Test career getting a restart, this time as vice-captain.
The experiment did not last long. By the third Test, Lanka realised that Thirimanne hadn’t changed one wee bit and that his temperament wasn’t good enough to bat at no.3. The fact that Rangana Herath was down and de Silva could play an all-round job also favoured the 26-year old.
On Day 2, when the smog-controversy took centre-stage, de Silva vomited in the dressing room. He came in at no.3, played out 14 balls and scored just a single.
He bowled a total of just five overs in the second innings and then walked in to bat a second time with the face of the selectors blinking before his unwavering eyes. de Silva knew he had to stamp down his presence in this innings. And he had the ideal opportunity. The Test had still not fully swayed India’s way and if he could pull off a draw, his job was done.
What unfolded since then was breathtaking. The technically adept de Silva played out 257 minutes, 219 balls and staved off a glute injury to the point where he couldn’t even bend. By then he had scored a fabulous hundred, one studded with spectacular shots all around the wicket, impeccable judgement and temperament.
When he hobbled off the pitch, retiring after scoring 119, he had awoken the Lankan spirit, inspired the debutant coming after him and gave Niroshan Dickwella hopes of chasing down the target. Roshen Silva, a domestic veteran and a matured batsman, however, had enough sense and communication skills to shun out Dickwella’s thoughts which were suicidal against the Indian spinners.
De Silva’s innings was no blockathon. It wasn’t in any way reminiscent of the manner in which the trio of Hashim Amla – Faf du Plessis – AB de Villiers blocked their way to almost inspire a draw out of nowhere when they visited India. But the veteran Proteas batsmen could possibly take a lesson or two from de Silva’s book.
He knew that by just defending for a whole day, he was giving India the upper-hand, inviting close-in fielders and putting themselves under pressure. de Silva wanted to play his natural game. He went for his shots, but stuck to a risk-free approach, batted positively, but rarely have a whiff to the prowling Indian bowlers.
His theory was simple. India have succeeded blockathons at home against England, Australia and South Africa in the recent past. But when taken on, Kohli tends to spread the fields and go defensive. The sweep, which Dickwella had employed with success against Ashwin, came out and the fields gradually spread.
“I was playing my normal game. We were planning to chase the target down if we got some good partnerships. But unfortunately, Dhananjaya de Silva got injured, we had some fine partnerships, if only Dhananjaya had stayed longer, we could have gone for the target. It wasn’t a tough pitch to bat, but there was some help for the seamers and there was some rough as well, that was the reason we played a lot of sweeps and we used our feet against the spinners”, Dickwella said after the match. The words highlight the changed approach of these younger troop of players.
By the time that happened, he had 119 to his name, eleven irked Indian players on field, an inspired Roshen Silva and a determined Niroshan Dickwella. It is up to the Lankan selectors to ensure that this fight from the youngster do not go awry. Back them, selectors.