“Batting-wise, Sri Lanka are in complete misery and Perera has been a calming influence. With Mathews dropped and the middle-order lacking some punch, Perera has donned the role of firefighter across all disciplines. All of this makes Sri Lanka’s decision to give him just eight overs across three games even more baffling”
In the three matches played during ongoing England – Sri Lanka ODI series, Thisara Perera has bowled just eight overs in total. Dhananjaya de Silva, the part-time spinner, has bowled 12. In the last two games, both of which the hosts lost by Duckworth – Lewis method, Perera bowled one and zero overs respectively. In the last match, Lanka played before this series – against Afghanistan at the Asia Cup – he picked up 5/55.
These bits of stat might seem irrelevant and out of context, yet, in a way it signifies everything going wrong with Sri Lankan cricket. Directionless and lost in the fervour of limited-overs cricket, Sri Lankan cricket has hit a roadblock but not one they are incapable of untangling themselves from.
That they are 3-0 down in an ODI series at home against a side that has a gaping weakness against spin is the least of their worries. Even more perturbing is why they haven’t analysed enough or used the data available to all teams at the tip of their fingers.
“I brought Malinga in the attack because of the rain threat and I continued bowling Dananjaya as he was bowling well,” skipper Dinesh Chandimal said in the post-match presentation ceremony.
While Malinga and Dananjaya were exceptional, what Chandimal was possibly ignorant of was the fact that the bowler most likely to pick a wicket, at least statistically, wasn’t even used for a single over.
No, I am not bluffing. There is statistical evidence to back up the fact that Thisara Perera is indeed the bowler with the best strike rate in the Sri Lankan side currently. In 144 ODIs, Perera has 163 wickets at a rate of a wicket every 31st ball (31.4 if you count decimals). Only two Sri Lankan bowlers – Ajanta Mendis and Sajeewa de Silva – in the history of ODIs (min 50 wickets) have a better strike rate.
So why wasn’t Perera used with the ball at Pallekele on Saturday? Sri Lanka were either disturbingly unaware of Perera’s impact with the ball or chose to bank on the more convenient option. It would be even more convenient to dismiss Perera’s numbers as a fluke. But over a period of nine years, the all-rounder has built a reputation for being the silent killer. He has seen Lanka through some rough rides and remains their warrior in a time of strife.
In 2018, no Sri Lankan player has more runs or wickets than Thisara Perera! In 16 matches, the lower middle-order batsman has racked up 404 runs at an average of 36.72 and a strike rate of 116.41, all this while picking up 25 wickets at an average of 20 and strike rate of 21.0. He has two four wicket-hauls and a five-wicket haul this year with the ball. In the past 12 months in ODIs, no bowler has a better strike rate (min 25 wickets) than Thisara Perera. Not Kuldeep Yadav, not Lungi Ngidi, not Rashid Khan. Thisara Perera. In 2018, he is the second highest wicket-taker among pace bowlers in the world and boasts of the best strike rate for anyone with at least 10 wickets (21.0).
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) October 13, 2018
Yet, with his team in with a chance in a shortened encounter, he wasn’t even bowled. This after he played a valiant role, smashing a 41 ball 44, from no.7 to lift the team total on the company of Akila Dananjaya, whom he freed up to do some hitting of his own.
When Perera walked in, Lanka were 154/5 in 34.2 overs. When he left, the team total read 268 in 49.5 overs. In 93 balls, he had boosted the team by 114 runs in the company of some very average lower-order batsmen. It wasn’t enough for them to win the game, bit possibly could have been, had Sri Lanka entrusted him with a bigger role.
There is no reason to believe Perera wouldn’t have pulled it off. He has always been a man for crisis situations. His batting has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few months and his bowling, as was always the case, is more effective than ever. In the first ODI of the series against South Africa at home earlier this year, Perera lifted the team from shambles – 36/5 to be precise – with a 30-ball 49, countering the Proteas with his typically aggressive approach. At Pallekele, he spurred Lanka’s late onslaught although his error in judgement that resulted in the run-out of Dasun Shanaka stole all of the limelight.
Batting and bowling coaches, Thilan Samaraweera and Rumesh Ratnayake, have been pivotal in Perera’s new-found consistency. “He [Ratnayake] changed Thisara’s bowling approach. He was very slow to the crease before Rumesh came, and in the last seven months, we can see how much faster he is to the stumps. We had strong discussions, and sometimes disagreements. But Thisara is heading in the right direction at the moment,” says Samaraweera as revealed by ESPNcricinfo.
Batting-wise, Sri Lanka are in complete misery and Perera has been a calming influence. With Mathews dropped and the middle-order lacking some punch, Perera has donned the role of firefighter across all disciplines. All of this makes Sri Lanka’s decision to give him just eight overs across three games even more baffling.