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“With the middle-order missing Mathews, the onus on the openers to kickstart the innings in style is a major deciding factor for Lanka whose topsy-turvy selection policies have contributed a fair bit to their disastrous decline. Dickwella and Samarawickrama erased the memories of another pathetic series with their rejuvenating stand”

R.Premadasa Stadium bore witness to a special dead rubber in the final match of the England – Sri Lanka ODI series as Niroshan Dickwella and Sadeera Samarawickrama threw caution to the wind and compiled the first century opening stand for Sri Lanka in over a year. Putting on 137 for the opening wicket, the brand new opening pair gave the Island Nation a timely boost at the end of another disappointing ODI series.

Opting to bat on a crackjacker ODI wicket, Sri Lanka’s openers made use of England new ball bowlers’ erratic line and lengths. Samarawickrama was on the charge from the word go, not bothering to keep the ball along the ground and savagely going after the extra zip of Mark Wood. Sam Curran, who opened the attack alongside Wood, wasn’t spared either as the right-handed opener threw his hands at anything off the radar.

Taking cue from Samarawickrama, Dickwella, who needs little invitation to go after the bowling, joined the act. He spooned Wood’s fuller length delivery over the keeper for a classic ‘Dickwella scoop’ and quickly switched to the traditional mode with an on-drive in the next over.

Much of Sri Lanka’s aggression at the top in ODIs in the past few years have come from Upul Tharanga who has started off with a bang only to throw away his start. Samarawickrama, though, seemed to be aware of this flaw and the need to build on his start. Once the spinners were on, the right-hander buckled down and played second-fiddle to Dickwella, who was fired up by then.

The southpaw reached his half-century first, at nearly run-a-ball, and carried on from there. When Liam Plunkett, England’s most prolific ODI seamer since the World Cup came on, the openers were quick to take him on. The back of the length channel seemed to be a recipe for disaster as the Lankan openers broke the shackles that seemed to have held them back since the World Cup.

Sri Lanka have just six-century stands in ODIs in the last three years after the World Cup. That four of them involve Niroshan Dickwella should have been an indicator of where he should be placed in this Sri Lankan line-up. Yet, selection criteria have been consistently poor in the country and at the receiving end of it was Dickwella.

He was dropped before the Asia Cup despite being one of Lanka’s most reliable batsmen across formats. Courtesy an injury to Dinesh Chandimal, Dickwella was back in the scheme of things before the tournament and now at the top of the order, the southpaw is establishing his credentials. Samarawickrama is in many ways an ideal partner for Dickwella.

Graceful and pleasing to the eye, Samarawickrama adds the balancing factor that Lanka missed at the top since their brief experiment with Kusal Mendis. While Dhananjaya de Silva is another who can be a contender for the spot, Samarawickrama has grabbed his chance by the scruff of the neck and made it count.

The ease with which he switched from attack to a wingman role made it easy for Dickwella to stick to his game plan. The partnership flourished much to the excitement of the Lankans for whom every ODI from now is crucial. Their opening partnerships produce an average of 39 runs every innings since the last World Cup. The likes of South Africa, India, England, Pakistan and Hong Kong average better.

With the middle-order missing Mathews, the onus on the openers to kickstart the innings in style is a major deciding factor for Lanka whose topsy-turvy selection policies have contributed a fair bit to their disastrous decline. Dickwella and Samarawickrama erased the memories of another pathetic series with their rejuvenating stand. The influence of the dose of enthusiasm they brought at the top was evident that even after Samarawickrama was controversially cleaned up by Moeen Ali.

Dickwella was also removed before he reached the magical three-figure mark but the middle-order was inspired. Chandimal and Kusal Mendis seemed care-free and bludgeoned the English attack in the middle overs.

The eventual 366, their sixth highest total in ODIs and best against England, stemmed from a robust opening stand. The pair scripted a memorable partnership which should ideally prompt the selectors to give them a longer run at the top. If Samarawickrama and Dickwella and complement each other as well as they did at Colombo, Lanka will have one less worry to focus on.

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