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Ruwan Kalpage, born on Feb 19, 1970 played for Sri Lanka when they struggled to win games on a consistent basis. However, Kalpage had some fine moments in the sun. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at his career…
The world of cricket can be heart-breaking for orthodox off-spinners. Most batsmen with twinkle-toed footwork dance down the wicket like a ballet dancer to send the ball soaring deep into the orbit, while facing off-spinners. Yet, despite the harsh realities surrounding the art of off-spin, Sri Lanka has produced a slew of decent off-spinners.
The world-record holder for most number of wickets in Tests and scourge of batsmen during his time, Muttiah Muralitharan is perched at top of the pile among the off-spinners produced by Sri Lanka. But a few others too have done yeoman services for the Island nation. One of them was Ruwan Kalpage, a bowling all-rounder. He turned out to be a utility performer for Sri Lanka in the 1990s. Kalpage never reached celestial heights as a bowling all-rounder, nevertheless, had his moments in the sun.
It was during India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 1993 that one caught a glimpse of Kalpage’s off-spin bowling. As India waded through a tough challenge from the Sri Lankan setup to win the series, Kalpage bowled untiring and parsimonious spells. On batting friendly tracks, he struggled to scalp too many wickets, yet kept the Indian batsmen largely in check.
Unfortunately from Kalpage’s perspective, he found life difficult in Tests, as he failed to take wickets on a regular basis. Navjot Sidhu in particular must have sent shivers down his spine when he surgically dismantled him with those towering sixes in a Test series in India in 1993-94.
In One-day Internationals (ODIs) though, he found more success by taking 73 wickets in 86 games. One of his better spells came against New Zealand at R Premadasa Stadium in 1992-93. The New Zealand middle and lower-order was ripped though by Kalpage, as he scalped three important wickets. He followed that up with another three wicket-haul against the Kiwis in the same series. Even in the series against England at home, he was among the wickets.
He did reasonably well in the Benson and Hedges tri-series held in Australia in 1995-96, but Sri Lankan think-tank didn’t select for him for the 1996 World Cup. They went for the young and fresh legs of Upul Chandana. Kalpage continued to play for three more years at the top echelons of the game, before he walked into the sun set of his career in 1999.
Kalpage could also play that odd decent knock for Sri Lanka. One of his better knocks came against India in a Test series in 1993-94. The Indian team was all over the Sri Lankan side like a rash. In the second Test played at Bangalore, Indian batsmen ran amok and notched up a monstrous score of 541 for six declare. Sri Lankan batsmen flattered to deceive in both their innings. Yet, Kalpage like a boy on the burning deck showed burgeoning self belief and unwavering concentration prowess to essay a fine knock of 63. It turned out to be the highest score of his Test career.
In ODI games, his only fifty came against the Indian team during the same time in 1993-94. However that fifty he compiled at Hyderabad turned out to be a valiant innings in a losing cause.
One of Kalpage’s problems was that he tended to bowl with a flatter trajectory and didn’t impart much turn on the ball. Most of the batsmen were able to milk him around the corner with ease.
Ruwan Kalpage played at a time when Sri Lanka struggled to win games in the international arena. His records in international cricket don’t make for a good reading, but playing for the country itself is an achievement that he can be proud of.
(Bharath Ramaraj, , an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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