“A batting average of 103 after three Tests. The only Lankan cricketer to score four fifties in his first five innings. Only the fourth player since Herbie Collins, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohammad Azharuddin to do so. But for Silva, the records would have rarely mattered”.
It was not only baffling but rather unfair as well. Whilst the Sri Lankan Cricket Team was walloping to one series loss after another, trying out new players unheard and untested, a maverick kept sweating it out in the lower rungs. No, his skills against the most talented players were hardly doubted but as fate would have it, he had become a toying object for the then-skipper Angelo Mathews, who hardly believed in him and his potential.
As Sri Lanka buried itself lower and lower in international cricket, Roshen Silva gritted it out sans complaints against a bunch of cricketers who could hardly match up to him. He patiently saw his team-mates entering the national arena and soon disappearing into the oblivion but the gutsy player had nothing but belief in himself and in his abilities. Being cast aside due to school-boy politics hardly hindered his determination and each day, he stepped out in the First-Class circuit with unwavering dreams. 111 FC matches fetched almost 7000 runs, but when he could have easily given up all hopes, he stirred himself more sternly towards his aspirations.
The figure of Michael Hussey, who too had raked in the runs in domestic cricket but found a late entry into the national team, inspired him and Silva, for all it was worth, was ready to push on, further and further.
Till one day when he did receive that precious cap. The day when all his efforts culminated into a beautiful story that had been defined by the undeterred desire to achieve all that he had set out to achieve. Facing India in India against a rampaging duo of spinners was always meant to be a tough task, which Silva found out rather abysmally. In the first innings of the 3rd Test match at New Delhi, Silva fell for naught to a perfect Ravichandran Ashwin delivery and soon a bleak future stared ahead at him.
Had he sacrificed days and years for such a premature ending? Would he too traverse the same journey as had been travelled by hordes, who had entered the playing field with expectations ablaze, only to exit with a whimper?
He need not have worried much longer. With India setting a stiff 410 to chase in the fourth innings, the general perception was an early flurry of wickets that would hand India yet another easy win but what unfurled was hardly anticipated. With the score reading 35/4, Silva, along with Dhananjaya de Silva, staged a performance that can undoubtedly be called as the most fighting knock of 2017. While the former leaped to a crucial 119, the debutant stamped his authority with an unbeaten knock of 74 that helped Sri Lanka draw the game. In all its glory, Silva had announced his arrival but the journey was far from over.
A Silva special in Bangladesh
He knew that he had to carry on, not only for himself but also for the team. He had witnessed the team scaling new depths with each passing series and it turns into an easy walkover in a majority of the series. The next challenge was against sub-continent rivals Bangladesh, who were high on confidence after a slew of favourable results against the top teams.
The first Test was hardly an obstacle. On a flat track, he blazed away to his maiden century – a knock of 109 in 230 deliveries. But, with the pitch, that could have been easily mistaken for a highway, never really troubling the players, the Lankans were able to notch up a mammoth 713 runs, in reply to Bangladesh’s first innings total of 513. Such was the cringe-worthy run feast that 1533 runs were scored in five days and one would not have been mistaken for overlooking the feat that Silva had just achieved.
But cricket is not all about records and numbers. Test cricket, in particular, is more about adapting to the situation, analysing the game and reaping in the pressure to churn out a match-winning innings. It is all about the ability to adorn the garb of calmness while the team around is succumbing and it is about standing up to the occasion on tough decks to script a knock that will be remembered for a long, long time.
In Dhaka, on a track that was completely in contrast to the one in Chittagong, Silva did just that. Coming in to bat after Abdur Razzak had reduced the visiting team to 96/4, the batsman took time to settle down and was mostly unperturbed by the disturbances all around. He had entered his tranquil zone, even when the likes of Razzak and Taijul Islam were wreaking havoc. As wickets kept falling at the other end, the 29-year old was attacking and defending with ease.
He thrashed flat deliveries towards the covers. When Mustafizur Rahman sent down a full length delivery, he cheekily opened the face of the bat with soft hands to find the covers. When Islam bowled a short ball, he threw his bat down and slapped it for a wonderful boundary to top-score with a 56. He combined first with Dilruwan Perera and then with Akila Dananjaya to display a batting performance that was equally replete with maturity as it was with solid relentlessness. He single-handedly took Sri Lanka to a fighting target of 222, which helped them gain a psychological advantage over the hosts, who were then shot out for 110.
However, his work was still not complete. Looking to bat Bangladesh out of the game in the third innings, Silva once again returned to script yet another unbeaten knock of 70. The fact that except Kusal Mendis, no other player in the game could score even one fifty, forget two, only highlights how difficult the pitch was and in that context, how important Silva’s innings was.
Of course, the records did tumble in as well. A batting average of 103 after three Tests. The only Lankan cricketer to score four fifties in his first five innings. Only the fourth player since Herbie Collins, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohammad Azharuddin to do so. But for Silva, the records would have rarely mattered. For someone who had waited eleven years to step into the national dressing room, he would have taken even one fifty in his first few games. But as they say, the fruits of patience are but sweet and for Silva, it couldn’t have been any sweeter.