“He did survive a few edges through slips and almost played Kemar Roach on to his stumps but his full-of-intent partnership with Kusal against West Indies once again proved his importance in the side”
At first glance, the Sri Lankan Cricket team will send off a queer vibe. No big stars. Cricketers with complicated names. Players who might not be termed the fittest. A side lost in the deep end of the transition period after their stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralidharan walked away, leaving the nation sans any icon. For the Indian supporter, the overdose of games against Sri Lanka and India proves to be a massive turn-off, and hence, for reasons many, the Sri Lankan squad remains caught up in a ‘no-mans-land’.
India, South Africa, England and Australia make up the top-four while New Zealand and Pakistan excite on the field. West Indies, despite their troubles off late, have the habit of attracting eyeballs due to their ‘larger-than-life’ attitude. Sri Lanka cannot really be termed amongst the greatest eye-ball grabbers, neither do they have the liveliness that West Indies possess. They can neither be categorised amongst the Bangladeshis or the Zimbabwe squads and hence, for the last half-decade or so, Sri Lanka are surviving without any unnecessary pomp or stardom.
However, despite their inability to rise above the shadows, their Test performances overseas in the last year has been a matter of much pride. They have completed a sequence of four Test tours abroad, performing credibly in each one of them. They won against the Pakistanis, drew two tests in India – a side that had been on a rampage at home, won a tough series in Bangladesh and now, by drawing the series against West Indies in unfamiliar and tough conditions and with their bowlers in threatening form, the Lankans can take heart from their survival spirit and their ability to keep pushing even in pressure situations.
One player who has been leading the charts when it comes to form, determination and grit in crucial moments is 35-year-old Dilruwan Perera. In the last year, he has averaged 22 in 16 innings away from home. While these figures are ordinary, it is the transformation in wins that stand out. He averages 28.16 in 8 innings in wins – again numbers that do not scream out legend – but a further dissection will reveal how integral he has been to the side, with his small but crucial knocks and partnerships. His match-winning partnership of 63 with Kusal Perera in the Day/Night Test match against West Indies showed restraint and displayed the fight for which he keeps getting picked. His series-levelling knock of 23 came in 68 balls; surviving the pace of Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder while wickets tumbled at the other end.
Dilruwan has faced 392 balls in wins in the last year, as against the 629 that he has faced in 16 innings in the interim overall – a whopping 62.3% deliveries! He has been a part of six crucial partnerships in wins in the last twelve months, and while 50-plus stands are only four, each run that is accumulated with a lower-order batsmen goes a long way in changing the fortunes of the game.
His biggest one yet has been his stand with Dinesh Chandimal against Pakistan in the first Test match at Abu Dhabi, when he put on 92 runs to help his side get over the 400-run mark. In the next game, he, along with Dimuth Karunaratne put on 59 runs for the sixth wicket to take the score well beyond the reach of the Pakistanis.
The second Test match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had seen the visiting side collapse to 110 for 6, and if it had not been for the determined partnership of 52 by Dilruwan and Roshen Silva, Sri Lanka would not even have managed to cross 200. They eventually made 222 runs, which proved to be a match-winning total in the end.
Even in draws, Dilruwan’s records stand impressively. In Kolkata, against India, Sri Lanka had the match in their control after India had been shot out for a paltry 172 in the first innings. Though his side had taken the lead when he came out to walk, it was just a slender one of 30 runs and the onus was on the veteran to make the target a competitive one. He saw his side slump to 201 for 7, but he, along with Rangana Herath stood firm to take the score to 244 runs. Dilruwan scored only 5 runs in 34 balls, but he fulfilled his duty of staying put on the crease and holding one end up to support Herath, who made 67 runs.
In Delhi, in the same series, Sri Lanka, in reply to India’s 536 had collapsed to 14 for 2, and it needed a solid 61-run partnership with Angelo Mathews to set the game rolling. Eventually, the Lankans managed 373 runs that helped them to settle for a draw.
He did survive a few edges through slips and almost played Kemar Roach on to his stumps but his full-of-intent partnership with Kusal against West Indies once again proved his importance in the side. Even though the player might not be screaming with a hundred after another, in his own quiet way Dilruwan ensures that the team’s job gets done.