“Shanaka’s innings was a good example of calculated aggression”
Sri Lanka returned from the dead and bounced back emphatically in the fourth ODI against South Africa, winning it by a whisker. The rain-affected game saw the home side snatching a nail-biting victory after three back-to-back defeats in the five-match series. Sri Lanka have finally managed to break their losing streak and taste victory, but the series has already been surrendered. One of the key reasons behind this win was the much-needed impetus provided by all-rounder Dasun Shanaka in the middle. His cameo helped the Sri Lankan side rediscover that missing aggression in the middle and cross the 300-run mark.
Sri Lanka did bat well in the last two games, but that fire was missing in the middle-order. They needed someone who could get the ball rolling and score at a brisk pace in the middle. Dasun Shanaka was roped in and the promising all-rounder showed why he shouldn’t be left out. Sri Lankan batsmen clicked and were equally backed by their bowlers to snatch a 3-run victory in a rain-curtailed match.
South Africa decided to field first after winning the toss. Sri Lankan openers were steady this time and helped their side get off to a good start. But a middle-order collapse saw them being precariously placed at 195 for 6. Another Sri Lankan downfall looked on the cards and a total of 300 from this stage looked a distant dream.
Dasun Shanaka walked in and changed the dynamics with his belligerence and stroke-making ability. Along with Thisara Perera, Shanaka sailed the Sri Lankan ship out of choppy waters and put pressure back on the pumped South African bowlers. With just 12 overs of play left, Shanaka and Perera fired with all cylinders and ruled out the idea of batting out throughout the innings cautiously, instead, they batted with some aggression. Shanaka scored 65 off 34 deliveries with the help of four boundaries and five sixes.
Shanaka’s innings was a good example of calculated aggression and along with Perera the duo accounted for the best Sri Lankan partnership of the series – 109 off 67 deliveries. From 195 for 6, Sri Lanka’s total was 304 for 7 in the final over when Shanaka got out. South African bowlers were tightening the noose around Sri Lanka, but this partnership broke the shackles. Not just with the bat, Shanaka also managed to scalp the prized wicket of Reeza Hendrciks with the ball. Hendricks was the centurion from the last game and crucial for South Africa in Faf du Plessis’ absence.
Thisara Perera spoke about his partnership with Shanaka and emphasised on their strategy out in the middle. He was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “As soon as Dasun came, I told him that we shouldn’t stop playing our shots. We are both positive batsmen. We planned three overs by three overs at the start. And then after a while, we realised that we are seeing the ball well. So we decided on a target of 280, we both batted well. Dasun was especially good at hitting boundaries, so we were able to pass 300. A 100-run partnership is not easy, because their bowlers were bowling well and we had lost six wickets already. But as soon as Dasun came, I told him, let’s try and hit straight in the first few overs and get ourselves set, and then see after that.”
Shanaka also spoke about his knock, he said, “Actually what I had wanted to do was to support Thisara, because he is the best death-overs batsman in Sri Lanka – he can hit six at any time. I wanted to stay with him till the end and play the supporting role. When he started batting well, I got a few loose balls. When they tried to bowl short at him, they also bowled short at me, so I was able to hit sixes.”
Shanaka ensured he made the most of his ODI recall after playing the last one back in November 2016. He has certainly made his presence unavoidable for the future and strengthened his case for the upcoming World Cup. This innings might give him a longer rope, but how Shanaka utilises it is the question? He has only played 10 ODIs for Sri Lanka so far, but his return has been promising. It will be interesting to see if he remains a mainstay or fizzles out after an emphatic comeback.