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Sachithra Senanayake: Sri Lanka’s consistent performer who found his stardom through IPL

Sachithra Senanayake © AFP
Sachithra Senanayake has played 21 ODIs as of February 9, 2014, for Sri Lanka. He has though played only one Test so far © AFP

Born on February 9, 1985, from the country of a spin wizard and a mystery spinner, Sachithra Senanayake, has carved out his own niche in the off-spin category for Sri Lanka. Abhijit Banare looks at the career of Senanyake so far and what he has to offer in the future.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been an effective tool for players to make a point to their national selectors. It may not hold true in India as IPL hasn’t resurrected as many careers in comparison to international ones who participate. Brad Hogg, Brad Hodge, Kieron Pollard and many others have emerged from this hut. A lesser known but a high impact player made his debut in the sixth edition in 2013 — Sachithra Senanayake. In fact Senanayake had garnered enough eyebrows much earlier when Kolkata Knight Riders placed a bid of $625,000. That sounds a big spend on a team which already had Sunil Narine, a proven demon for batsmen in Twenty20 cricket. The IPL made him a star but the off-spinner has been the leading wicket-taker and has been one of the most consistent spinners in Sri Lanka’s domestic circuit.

Debut

He made his entry into First-Class cricket through Sinhalese Sports Club at the age of 21 in 2006-07 but it was the following two seasons which made an impact as he picked 50 and 64 wickets respectively. His best season was yet to come with 72 scalps in 2009-10. With 376 wickets so far in 71 First-Class matches, Senanayake has been a delight in the domestic circuit. The national selection finally arrived with in 2012. He made his debut for Sri Lanka in the One-Day Internationals (ODI) against South Africa at Kimberley in January 2012. Bowling in South Africa and Australia have not really been a productive place for spinners and on expected lines, Senanayake hardly made a difference. He was dropped from the side.

After making news for bagging a fortune in the auction where he was picked by Kolkata Knight Riders, Senanayake made his debut against Sunrisers Hyderabad. On the home turf at Eden Gardens, he won the confidence of skipper Gautam Gambhir by sending down his four overs for just 18 runs. The big match was against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali where along with Narine, the two plotted Punjab’s downfall. On a pacer-friendly pitch it was the two spinners who shared five wickets between them. In his second match, Senanayake had caught the eyes and had dismissed Adam Gilchrist and the explosive David Miller.

With a modest run-up, the off-spinner, similar to Narine focuses on his finger spin in his variations and often disguises the wrong ones (doosra) with the use of his wrists. Senanayake isn’t as unplayable as Narine, but the amount of variations he has is good enough to keep the batsmen guessing. But as with Narine, who was blunted in the longer formats of the game, Senanayake has a long way to go. Even in his last five matches, Senanayake has failed to pick any wickets and in the 21 ODIs he has played, he has picked up only 18 wickets. But in the 20-overs format, he has 12 wickets in eight matches and the economy rate has been under six. In an era where the odds are heavily against the bowlers, just about 30 international matches across formats aren’t the best parameter to judge Senanayake’s potential.

 

What does he have to offer?

After a long wait, Sri Lanka’s pace attack seems to be finding its way through Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and Dilruwan Perera. But the spin department still seems to be hovering around the veteran Rangana Herath while the shorter versions of the game have seen rotating spinners. Senanayake is one such player who may have shined in the T20 format but has the ability to sustain his career in the longer run. And the selectors too have entrusted their faith in the off-spinner. Despite being an irregular in the side, he was among the 17 players to receive a central contract. (The contracts itself came under the crisis between the Sri Lankan board and players).

Seeguke Prasanna and Akila Dhananjaya are among the new spinners who can make a mark for Sri Lanka but Senanayake is a touch ahead with the wickets and experience.

Senanayake wouldn’t mind delaying his birthday celebrations for a while. He currently commands an impressive base price of Rs 1 crore in the IPL and is among the few Sri Lankans in the upper half of the base price. The T20 format and the leagues may well be Senanayake’s road to limelight, but at the end, he can do well to use these experiences of playing in the IPL to make a better impact in the national team.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)

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