Akila Dananjaya is developing into one of Sri Lanka’s lethal weapons day by day……
Sri Lanka continued their domination of South Africa at Colombo and this time it was their bowlers, who once again restricted the Proteas to a mediocre score. Sri Lanka went into the match with three spinners and did not require a single over from their only fast bowler Suranga Lakmal to bowl South Africa out for just 124. With that, Sri Lanka took a massive 214-run lead. That lead could not be achieved without the all-round efforts of Akila Dananjaya, playing only his third Test. Dananjaya came in at No. 9 and put on 72 runs for the final wicket with Rangana Herath. Dananjaya remained unbeaten on 43, which took Sri Lanka from a good score to perhaps a match-winning one.
A couple of South African batsmen looked to take on the spinners, but they eventually fell prey to them. Runs were never going to be an issue for Sri Lanka. In fact, they would have loved seeing the South African batsmen take on the spinners as it gave them that much of a chance to get their wickets. The batsmen clearly did not want to get bogged down under the spinners’ pressure and tried their best to score runs against them. They tried blocking them at Galle, but the Proteas were bowled out for double figures – An embarrassing feat for the No.2.
While South Africa went in with just one spinner, Sri Lanka decided to go all guns blazing and play all the three spinners they had here. They did not do so at Galle as there was something in the pitch and the conditions for the fast bowlers as well. But it paid great dividends for the hosts.
Dananjaya made his international debut in 2012 and had to wait 6 more years to make his Test debut. There was a gap of 5 years between his first and second ODI, but he grabbed his opportunities with both hands. Ina rather disappointing series against India at home, Dananjaya picked up 6-54 at Pallekele to almost give Sri Lanka a victory. He was considered to be a mystery spinner, who could bowl offspin and also leg spin, without varying his action much, making it difficult for the batsmen to read him. They were forced to read him off the pitch, which forced mistakes. But in this Test against South Africa, he did not have to use his leg-spinners as his stock delivery was doing enough damage and the South Africans fell like nine pins.
Dananjaya is the third spinner after Herath and Dilruwan Perera in the Sri Lankan team. This means that he could once again find himself out of the XI if Sri Lanka decide to play just two spinners in the side. Sri Lankan selectors have to ensure that he does not fade away in their shadow. It happened with another talented spinner Tharindu Kaushal, who made his debut in the quarter-final of ICC World Cup 2015 against South Africa and since then went on to play just 7 Tests for Sri Lanka. There were some issues with his bowling action, but he now is nowhere in contention for a place in the Sri Lankan squad.
Herath perhaps has limited time in the Test arena and we may not see him in Sri Lankan colours in a year or two. Dananjaya is perhaps the best man to replace him. He can bowl accurately and can also be a handy batsman down the order like he showed in this Test match. Even Herath had to wait for a long time to get a consistent run in the Sri Lankan squad due to the ever-present Muttiah Muralitharan. Dananjaya too is perhaps going through a similar phase. The spin department, for now at least seems to be sorted for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka welcome England home in October-November after this after which they travel to Australia for a couple of Tests. There is little doubt about Dananjaya’s prowess at home, but how will he fare in testing conditions? Will he be given a chance? Or will Sri Lanka stick to their tried and tested duo? The selectors have a lot of questions to answer.