Rajitha bowled with a lot more intent in his first ever Test and impressed everyone…..
Chandika Hathurusingha loves to keep faith in young and talented cricketers. In fact, he possesses the eyes to spot the talents and unleash them on the big stage. When he was the head coach of Bangladesh, Mustafizur Rahman was included in a shorter-format, where he looked impressive, but still, no one even thought of playing further other than shorter-formats. Chandika dreamed big about Fizz and in the next series against India and South Africa three years ago, Chandika gifted Bangladesh a special talent who had not only taken the country by storm, but also created a buzz all around the world.
As a matter of fact, despite performing well in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2014, Mustafiz was never the radar of Bangladesh selectors and any of the so-called experts here did not even know about Fizz until that staggering display against India. They shouted for an old warhorse named Robiul Islam or backed their favourite names, but hardly, said anything in support of young talents. Had Chandika not decided to include Fizz, I am not sure, where would have been Fizz by now!
Then Chandika injected fresh faces in the form of Soumya Sarkar, Sabbir Rahman, Liton Kumar Das and Jubair Ahmed, the selection of whom would have never been possible if Chandika was not around as because Bangladesh cricket fraternity is the worshipper of yesterday’s men.
Bangladesh cricket changed for a certain period.
Chandika took over the responsibility of his own men last year. Like Bangladesh, he also started to inject young men in the team even it is at the cost of a few renowned names. Players like Akila Danajaya, Roshen Silva, Jeffrey Vandersey, Madushanka, Dusmantha Chameera or Lahiru Kumara were around before Chandika arrived, but as soon as Chandika took over, they have started to flourish as someone confident and hungry for success.
After a very dismal show in the first Test at Port of Spain, Chandika decided to include some fresh faces. Although, the fresh faces were included partly because of a number of injuries, which plagued the Sri Lankan unit. Regular opener Dimuth Karunaratne was out with a fractured finger, and fast bowlers Chameera and Nuwan Pradeep are out with back and hamstring problems respectively.
31-year old opening batsman Mahela Udawatte was included in the Sri Lanka Test squad more than 10 years after his international debut, along with three other uncapped players, Kasun Rajitha, Jeffrey Vandersay and Asitha Fernando. Among the uncapped players, Kasun Rajitha earned the Test cap – a pace bowler who would partner Suranga Lakmal and Kumara at Gros Islet. In fact, the critics thought, his role was to support the more-experienced paces rather than look for wickets.
But when Chandika has included someone, definitely, his role would not be just limited to supporting-work, but even more that.
The reply of West Indies to Sri Lanka’s first innings was steady. The openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Devon Smith essayed a 59-run stand and the visitors needed a breakthrough. In the 25th over, Rajitha dished out a delivery which moved from a fuller-length and forced Brathwaite to poke at it. The ball flew towards Niroshan Dickwella, who took the catch and triggered a celebration. Rajitha picked two more wickets and the dismissal of captain Jason Holder as he was undone by the extra bounce from the back of a length. On Day 5, Rajitha was again impressive as his sharp pace and movement dismissed Smith and Kieron Powell to leave West Indies reeling at 8 for 2.
Sadly, rain played the role of a spoilsport and denied Sri Lanka a great comeback.
But Rajitha had impressed everyone. Especially, his ability to move the ball both ways from a testing length – even if you think of having some loose balls from the young lad, he won’t give you the time to relax a bit. The cherry would either nip back in or move away from that fuller-length create doubts in the minds of batsmen. His ability to generate extra-bounce on a rather flat deck on Day 3 indicated he relies more on his skills rather than conditions.
Rajitha caught the attention of Sri Lankan think tank when the Indians toured Sri Lanka in 2015 under the leadership of Virat Kohli, where the visitors played a warm-up match at Colombo before the start of first Test. In that match, Rajitha dismissed Kohli twice with his movement and then one year later in a shorter-format international in Pune, he outplayed the strong Indian batting line-up with his movements, yet again.
These days, the access to such talents in a Test team becomes tougher. Whenever a young talent performs well in the shorter-formats, their demand increases in the franchise leagues and more often, they are wasted. Thankfully, Rajitha’s talent and skill won’t be a matter of joy in a League, but it would continue to develop more. Chandika and Sri Lankan hierarchy can be appreciated.