“Against the spinners, he was merciless, dancing down the track and taking them over the infield. He swept with authority, flicked with ease and set the panic button off in the Bangladeshi camp”.
242 was always going to be a daunting target for the underdogs in the finals of a major tournament. Their firepower at the top and the show guns, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, had departed quite early in the run chase, leaving them at 23/2.
In came Aravinda de Silva with his hurried, composed, nonchalant, confident strides. This was Lahore. When cricket took place, Lahore burned. When Australia bowled the World sat up and took notice because there really were few better bowling teams in the World.
This was the sub-continent, a tad unfamiliar for Australia, but the opposition were Sri Lanka, unworthy finalists according to some and a minnow in every sense of the word. If Australia thought they were pushovers, they had barely seen Aravinda de Silva bat before.
At the end of a strong century partnership between Asanka Gurusinha and Aravinda de Silva, there was only winner in sight – Sri Lanka. de Silva stamped home his legacy, which was to grow multiple times in the next few years, on that night at Lahore which turned out to be historic for Sri Lankan cricket.
It is 2018. 22 years have passed since Sri Lanka’s memorable night. The previous year was among the worst for them as a cricketing nation. They had been whitewashed in three bilateral ODI series, nearly lost a Test to Zimbabwe, lost a Test to Bangladesh at home and appeared dazed and stunned as a nation.
They had nowhere to go. With them 1-0 down against India in India, they set foot in foggy Delhi. The Feroz Shah Kotla was to greet them with pollution, intimidating fans and roaring opposition. India were the fancied winners.
At the end of day 4, Lanka were staring down the barrel at 31/3 with a day to go and an impossible target to scale. A loss looked inevitable. As day 5 began, Sri Lanka suddenly discovered a hero. Another de Silva, another gritty, flamboyant youngster with class written all over him.
At the end of the day, as Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella took Lanka to safety, Dhananjaya de Silva smiled form the dressing room knowing that his spectacular 119 in 219 balls had not only put Sri Lanka out of danger but nearly doused the fog in Delhi.
de Silva wasn’t new to this. He had played superbly when Australia visited Sri Lanka a year before and topped the run charts. But for a debacle by Sri Lankan selectors, de Silva might well have established himself in the Sri Lankan middle-order instead of biding his time in domestic cricket.
This was a “revenge” series in Faf du Plessis terms for Sri Lanka. They had been humiliated by Bangladesh at home in a Test match and it was payback time. They had Chandika Hathurusingha, the brains behind that victory, on their side this time around.
They were greeted at Chittagong by a parched, dry, flat as a pancake wicket. Their fielders, bowlers and Hathurusingha watched in dismay as Mominul Haque – not among the former Bangladesh coaches favourite players – hammered them down with a superb 176. Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah added fuel to find and propelled the hosts to 513.
Sri Lanka had seen the track and knew that anything lesser than that was doom for them since they had to bat last here. Besides, a result appeared a slim possibility here and gaining a first innings lead was to be more of a psychological advantage.
In walked Dhananjaya de Silva after Bangladesh sent back Dimuth Karunaratne for a duck. He joined Kusal Mendis with memories of the two lambasting Australia at home two years back a distant memory.
Runs came thick and fast as Mendis and de Silva went about their business as though they were playing school boys. The track had little to offer for the bowlers but the batsmen still had to get the runs. Dhananjaya was flowing. He barely paused to give Bangladesh a breather. The drives were exquisite, the flicks gorgeous and his timing was as good as any from a Lankan batsmen in the past two years.
Against the spinners, he was merciless, dancing down the track and taking them over the infield. He swept with authority, flicked with ease and set the panic button off in the Bangladeshi camp. While he smashed a personal best of 173, Dhananjaya also equalled the record for the fastest Sri Lankan to 1000 Test runs. It seemed all but impossible to stop Dhananjaya from breaching the the double century mark.
But a moment of magic with the new ball from Mustafizur Rehman brought to a premature end a spectacular knock from de Silva. As he walked off, Sri Lanka and the cricketing fraternity knew that they he was here to stay. Future years will, in all likelihood, bear witness to a few more precious knocks from this wonderful talent.