Marvan Atapattu, born November 22, 1970, was a peculiar cricketer who fought his way through an extended lean patch early on in his career to later go on to lead Sri Lanka in Tests and One-Day Internationals. Karthik Parimal looks back at the ups and downs in the career of this technically sound batsman, well known for his amazing cover-drive.
Just three days before his 27th birthday, Marvan Atapattu registered his first ever century in Tests, almost seven years after his debut, against the Indians at Mohali in the November of 1997. For a decade thereafter, he played 81 more Tests, collecting sixteen centuries and scripting famous victories for Sri Lanka all along. That Atapattu could finish his career with respectable statistics looked highly unlikely considering his initial days of struggle, but the way he fought back to become an asset for his side is praiseworthy.
Atapattu’s career got off to the worst possible start with five scores of zero in his first six innings. His first and only run during this phase came in his second Test, against the Australians. Even that single should have been called a leg-bye, but it was wrongly overlooked by the umpire. Steven Lynch, a cricket statistician of international repute, noted that Atapattu is the only specialist batsman to have owned four pairs in Tests. Two of those came in the course of his first three Tests, spread over a duration of five years.
Since his first Test century against India, Atapattu became one of the most consistent batsmen produced by Sri Lanka. In the next six years, before taking over the reins from Sanath Jayasuriya as skipper, he scored 3725 runs in 59 Tests at an average of 43.31, with eleven centuries under his belt. He left no stone unturned in One-Day Internationals (ODI) either, scoring 5583 runs in 167 games, inclusive of nine hundreds, at an average of 38.23. He developed a penchant for big innings, and this was evident from the fact that six of his 16 Test centuries were duly converted into double-hundreds, a feat next only to Sir Don Bradman, Wally Hammond and Brian Lara.
One of Atapattu’s best innings in Test cricket was played at Lord’s, where he opened alongside skipper Jayasuriya to score 185 against an English bowling line-up featuring Dominic Cork, Andrew Caddick, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff. The match ended in a tame draw, but it was evident that Atapattu would be a worthy successor to Jayasuriya. A year before that, the former scored a match-winning, unbeaten 201 against the same opposition at Galle, and was involved in a 335-run opening partnership with Jayasuriya against Pakistan at Kandy. He remained undefeated at 207 whereas his captain fell for 188.
Looking at his figures, there is little doubt that Atapattu fancied Zimbabwe as an opposition. He scored five big hundreds against them – 249, 223, 216 not out, 170 and 100 not out – of which three were scored in the opponent’s backyard. The 249 at Bulawayo remained his highest Test score.
He also features in the unique list of batsmen who’ve scored centuries against all Test-playing nations.
As a skipper
Atapattu was in brilliant touch as a leader. Firstly, the Sri Lankan side had been on a downward spiral under the tenure of Hashan Tillakaratne. Many expected the job to go to Atapattu once Jayasuriya stepped down, but the selectors chose Tillakaratne over the former. However, once they’d seen the repercussions of their decision —his ten-match tenure produced just one win — Atapattu was put at the helm. He not only reversed the side’s dwindling fortunes, but ensured famous victories over South Africa and Pakistan. Sri Lanka also won the 2004 Asia Cup under him.
His own batting form had started to improve. In 18 Tests as captain, Atapattu scored 1250 runs at 41.66.
Tiff with the selectors
Atapattu’s relationship with the Sri Lankan selectors was seldom cordial. He was controversially left out of the squad for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, and the battle of words between Atapattu and the selection committee commenced thereafter. He was also set to miss the 2007-08 series against Australia Down Under, but timely ministerial intervention ensured he boarded the flight. However, it wasn’t an easy task for the sports minister to convince the selectors. Atapattu in turn stated that he had no faith in the selection committee headed by Ashantha de Mel. “The squads are picked by the chief selector and his committee on a subjective basis with which I do not agree. I have no respect for them considering the distasteful manner in which they have treated me in the past eight months or so. This is the problem I have had with them since the issues arose from the 2007 World Cup,” said an agitated Atapattu back then.
In his final series against Australia, Atapattu scored an 80 during the second innings of the Hobart Test in a game that Australia eventually won by 96 runs. Prior to this Test, Atapattu lashed out at the Sri Lankan selectors, labelling them as ‘a set of muppets headed by a joker’, for having no proper plans pertaining to the future of Sri Lankan cricket and for running affairs in a topsy-turvy manner. He retired immediately after the Australian series.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)