“Dananjaya looks like a consistent learner, he always looks to hone his skills and develop new variations”
Sri Lanka returned from the dead and bounced back emphatically to win the last two games of the five-match series against South Africa. They ended the series on a winning note and the out of form side just peaked at the right time. The final game at Colombo was a collective effort from the rebuilding Sri Lankan side; after a tenacious knock from their skipper Angelo Mathews, Akila Danajaya weaved magic with the ball to steer his side to total command. Sri Lanka won the game by 178 runs and have gained the much-needed momentum.
After a hammering in the third ODI, Akila Dananjaya lost his rhythm in the next, where he conceded 10 runs per over. His confidence was shattered and lost his rhythm but made a terrific comeback in the final ODI, where he wreaked havoc by picking six wickets to dismantle South Africa for a paltry total of 121. Dananjaya was unplayable and exploited the conditions to the fullest. South Africa did have the batting to chase down such a competitive total but Dananjaya spell made all the difference. He recorded his career-best figures of 6 for 29 and his graph has only been on a rise.
Dananjaya’s outing at Colombo only speaks about the kind of mettle and character he possesses. He wasn’t bogged down by the kind of damage South African batsmen inflicted on him in the last two games. He stuck to his guns and came out hard. This Sri Lankan side is continuing to rebuild around the prolific Mathews and performances like these will only push them for better.
While defending 300, Suranga Lakmal drew the first blood, after which it was all about Dananjaya. Mathews has also handled him wisely; he realized there was a turn and didn’t waste any time in bringing Dananjaya into the attack. The right-arm spin wizard wasted no time and ran through the Sri Lankan batting with the new ball. He scalped four wickets in his first spell and two in the second to script history. South African failed to pick him and paid the price. He mixed his variations quite smartly and kept the batsmen on their toes, which is also a sign of an impactful spinner.
Mathews was highly inspired by Dananjaya’s character and spoke greatly about him after the game. He was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “Akila’s made of steel – going for runs in the last couple of games and coming back with a six-for in this game was fantastic,” Mathews said. “He has been bowling so well for us over the past year and a half. You can have a couple of off days but he has been consistent with his performances over the past year and a half. He showed once again what he’s capable of. There is a big difference when you consider his debut, and you look at him now. He bowls with a lot of confidence. He’s not afraid to bowl his variations. And those variations are now also bowled with a lot of control. So those add up to a big difference.”
Not just his skipper, even Dananjaya’s counter-part Quinton de Kock was impressed by the wily spinner’s performance. He said, “We’ve picked him really well through the whole series, but tonight it was really difficult to pick him initially, in the night. He performed really well and bamboozled us.”
Dananjaya looks like a consistent learner, he always looks to hone his skills and develop new variations. He has a lethal googly in his armoury, which he bowls without any discernible change in action. “I got most of my recent caught-and-bowled wickets with the googly, and I’ve got a lot of wickets with the legbreak as well. In this series, I’ve also been trying to turn the legbreak as much as I can. The googly and the legbreak need to get better, so I’ll keep working on those,” Dananjaya added.
Sri Lanka’s next assignment will be against England. This would be an ideal platform for them to figure out the core team for the upcoming World Cup. This series will test Sri Lanka in every aspect. For Dananjaya, this would be his litmus test. England have a formidable batting lineup, they have done well across the globe. But Indian spinners did well against them in the recently concluded series’, which makes Dananjaya’s presence crucial. He has the potential to push England on the back foot with his inspiring spin. One can expect the conditions to be spin-friendly, which will aid the spinners and at the same time add pressure on Dananjaya to deliver.
It will be interesting to see if he manages to soak in the pressure and deliver or fizzles out? In just 24 ODIs, Danajaya has shown immense promise and with age being on his side, one can only expect him to get better. He will have a lot of responsibility to shoulder in the future and this is the perfect time for Sri Lanka to groom him as their specialist spinner.