Kumar Dharmasena: The suave decision maker who bowled off-spin

Kumar Dharmasena’s (above) quickish off-spin and unremitting line and length made him a regular in the ODI format. However he bowled under the shadow of Muttiah Muralitharan and his Test career did not prosper © Getty Images

Kumar Dharmasena, born on April 24, 1971, was an off-break bowler and handy lower-order batsman who representing Sri Lanka for 11 years at the international level. Post- retirement, Dharamasena took to umpiring and is now part of ICC elite panel. Prakash Govindasreenivasan looks back at his career.

A young boy from Colombo was handed the opportunity to ply his trade at the international level when he was only 22 in 1993 in a Test match against South Africa. With a slight frame and an unorthodox action, Dharmasena was impressive from the beginning. He picked up a six-for against Pakistan in his third match and a total of eight wickets that Test match. Soon after his impressive performances Dharmasena was selected in the 50-over format.Dharmasena did not spin the ball a great deal but was still effective. Yet, when one looks back at Sri Lankan cricket in the ’90s and 2000s, it’s fair to say he was born in the wrong era.

When Dharmasena was looking to break into the side as a spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan – Sri Lanka’s sensational spinner- had already played one year of international cricket. Before Dharmasena could try and cement his place in the Sri Lankan side, Muralitharan had promised a lot as a youngster and selectors looked at him as a long-term option. With his ability to turn the ball sharply and dupe some of the best in game on a consistent basis, he was the first choice spinner for as long as he played.

Muralitharan’s propensity as a strike bowler, irrespective of the conditions, had an meandering but adverse effect on Dharmasena’s Test career. Dharmasena relied in buying wickets. Containment was his forte. He was not exactly a bowler who you expected to run through the batting side.. At best he would tighten things from one end and create avenues for other strike bowlers. The ability to bowl long spells and picking up wickets in heaps was something Dharmasena could not add to his profile.

To compound the matters, his action was under the scanner in a Test match against England at Oval in 1998. It took him two years to get cleared by the Sri Lankan board, which enabled his return to Test cricket.
He  became a regular member in the limited-overs matches. Dharmasena’s hitting down the order was a big asset for Sri Lanka.In 31 Tests, Dharmasena picked up 68 wickets and scored 868 runs. In the shorter format he picked up 138 wickets from 141 matches. He also has 1222 runs to his name in the ODI format.

Kumar Dharmasena: The suave decision maker who bowled off-spin

Kumar Dharmasena (right) is part of ICC Elite Panel of Umpires and has set unprecedented benchmark for umpires all round the world © Getty Images

Kumar Dharmasena – the umpire

After retiring from the game in 2006, Dharmasena vowed to be connected to a game that he loved so much and trained to become a full-time umpire. Four years later, he made his umpiring debut in an ODI match between Sri Lanka and India at Dambulla in 2009.

Dharmasena is now into his fourth year as an International umpire and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that his umpiring career has clearly eclipsed his playing career. As a player, Dharmasena played under Muralitharan’s shadow .As a decision maker on the field he has he has only got better and better with time. He mightn’t have picked 800 Test wickets or bowled the ‘ball of the century’ but he was awarded the Umpire of the Year in 2012 by the International Cricket Council. He was also appointed to the Elite Panel of ICC Umpires in 2011 when he got the opportunity to officiate in the World Cup.

Dharmasena was a utility player. Today he officiates in the shortest format of the game. As a player he would have been handy in the format. It would have been ideal for him.

His international career as a player may not have gone the way he would have liked but his career as an international umpire he has set unprecedented benchmarks.

The lissome figure, the calm demeanor and the exceptionally high standard of umpiring has ensured that Dharmasena has paved a way towards greatness as an umpire.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)