“He came, he saw and he conquered. This is the story of Akila Dananjaya who thrashed Bangladesh in their own backyard”.
There are debuts, then there are unforgettable debuts. Akila Dananjaya has always fallen into the latter category. Dananjaya will always be remembered as the player who was given his national cap amidst a huge controversy. Dananjaya impressed Sri Lankan legend, Mahela Jayawardene at the net bowling to him, so much that, then skipper Jayawardene went on to request the selection members to fast-track Dananjaya into the national side. Without playing a First-Class, List A, Under-19 or even a T20 match, Dananjaya was named in Sri Lanka’s 2012 World T20 squad. He made his maiden international appearance as an 18-year-old against New Zealand at Pallakele in a pool match.
However, he was hit in the face with the ball going through his hands to strike the left side of his face. X-rays and MRI scans revealed that he had suffered a fracture on his left cheekbone following which he missed the next match but returned in the latter stages. Despite playing four matches less, he finished the tournament as Sri Lanka’s joint-third highest wicket-taker with five scalps from three matches but a better economy made him the third best for the runner’s ups.
Dananjaya was given a few more T20Is and an ODI the same year before he was forgotten by the national team for the next five years.
Dananjaya returns and how
He was recalled in 2017 during the home series against Zimbabwe. He bagged five wickets in the two matches he played but his best awaited for the vital India series. He almost won Sri Lanka the opening match with his maiden six-wicket haul but India’s had MS Dhoni at the crease who along with Bhuveneshwar Kumar ensured India crossed the line successfully.
He went on to take seven more wickets in the rest of the year before the big news came his way. The year 2018 began on a higher note not only for Sri Lanka but also for Dananjaya. After picking up two crucial wickets in the final of Tri-Series against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka gave him his Test debut in the second Test against the same side at Dhaka. The Bangladesh batsmen ensured Dananjaya’s Test debut would go down way better than his first-ever international match. More importantly, the opponents helped them as well in the same process. It was surprising that Bangladesh chose to make a turning pitch when they knew they were facing a team from the sub-continent. Capitalising on that aspect, Sri Lankans not only batted decently, the bowlers embarrassed the hosts in both the innings. On both the occasions, the young Dananjaya had a crucial part to himself.
After Bangladesh restricted Sri Lanka to 222 in the first innings, it was the latter’s turn to return the spin favour. It can be safely said that the Lankans owned the turning track with some spectacular performances from their spinners, which were well supported by their pacing department.
The wicket window was opened by pacer Suranga Lakmal, then came Dilruwan Perera into the picture before the Test debutant superintended Bangladesh’s batting line-up. He and Herath first put a check on the scoring rate in the first couple of hours. Before the first break of the day was taken, the home team had managed only two boundaries in the 15 overs they had played during that period of time. When the play resumed after the drinks stoppage, Bangladesh’s stand-in captain Mahmudullah ended the boundary draught by scoring a couple of fours. However, the shot selection from them did not give positive signs and a wicket seemed not very far away.
Dananjaya enforces twin-collapse
Dananjaya began to get the ball to flight and dip and that clearly troubled the batsmen. That effort from the 24-year-old spinner confused the batsmen and wickets fell one after the other. Mahmudullah, who got LBW dismissed became his maiden Test wicket before Dananjaya removed Sabbir Rahman two deliveries later. In his next over, Dananjaya got Abdur Razzak caught and bowled and that moment was followed by wickets of Taijul and Mustafizur Rahman in successive deliveries. Bangladesh were bowled out for 110, as they lost their final five men cheaply for just three runs. Making it worse, it was Bangladesh’s lowest ever total against Sri Lanka at home in Tests.
Sri Lanka came to bat in the second innings with a healthy lead of 112 runs. A second consecutive half-century from eventual Player of the Match, Roshen Silva, ensured the touring party would post a competitive target of 339 runs for Bangladesh with more than two days remaining in the second Test. It was Perera, who drew first blood in the final innings when he dismissed Bangladesh’s Tamim Iqbal in the second over of the innings. After Perera performed the opening rights, the focus shifted to the duo of Herath and Dananjaya, who wrapped up Bangladesh’s innings in less than 30 overs.
No Bangladesh batsman faced more than 51 balls, only four of the 11 batsmen reached the double figures and as the Test got to the mid-day of the third day, Sri Lankans emerged as winners of the Test series. Bangladesh dug their own grave by opting an overly spin-friendly track and things got out of hands for Bangladesh when Sri Lanka’s senior-most player, Rangana Herath, got back to wicket-taking. Herath, who went wicket-less in the first innings claimed 4 for 49 and in doing so, he became the most successful south-paw bowler in Test history. With 415 Test wickets to his name, he surpassed legendary Wasim Akram’s 414 Test wickets.
Dananjaya’s maiden five-for
Since Bangladesh were not accustomed Dananjaya’s bowling yet, that put him on an advantageous position. The debutant with his varied spin bowling was the significant damage-maker in the final innings as he finished the Test with eight wickets and his maiden five-wicket haul. The overspin Dananjaya managed to bring was something that made him a difficult bowler to face. The dismissals he made were the testimony to it.
He leaped off the length anytime and when would that happen was a tough judgment to make that led to fall of the quick wickets. Bangladesh’s wicketkeeper-batsman, Liton Das, was struck on the gloves and caught at short leg; Sabbir Rahman was also caught off his glove; Dananjaya forced an edge from Mahmudullah when the delivery came on him and was caught at slip and Mehidy Hasan nicked a straighter ball. Dananjaya’s five-for happened following an excellent stumping from keeper Niroshan Dickwella to dismiss Abdur Razzak.
Dananjaya bowled only 15 overs in the entire Test, fewer than Herath and Perera, but the impact he created with his bowling will always be remembered as his stunning Test debut. A few months back, Dananjaya was brought into the Sri Lankan side as a limited-overs specialist but Sri Lankan board’s move to bring him into the Test side turned out to be a fantastic decision that allowed Sri Lanka to maintain their good streak in Bangladesh in the red-ball game.