Thilan-Samaraweera

Born September 22, 1976, Thilan Thusara Samaraweera is a former Sri Lankan cricketer who represented their national team in 81 Tests and 53 limited-overs matches during a career spanning a decade and a half. A solid middle-order batsman, Samaraweera was a vital cog in the Sri Lankan batting line-up that had illustrious names such as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara for almost entire part of the first decade of 21st century. A fighter both on and off the field, he took a bullet on his body during the infamous terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan, survived and returned back to the field. On his 40th birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar presents 15 interesting facts from the life of Sri Lanka’s crisis man.

1.  All in the family: Samaraweera’s family has produced two cricketers, as his elder brother Dulip Samaraweera also played for Sri Lanka. He made seven and five appearances for the national team in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) respectively between the period from 1993 to 1995. Besides, from his extended family, his brother-in-law Bathiya Perera also played cricket at First-Class level and even represented Sri Lanka ‘A’.

2.  Tailender: Samaraweera started his First-Class career primarily as a bowler. As a matter of fact, he did not even get a chance to bat on his ODI debut, as he was listed to come in at No. 10. In the next two games, he batted at No. 8 and in the fourth game of his career, he batted at the last position, No. 11.

3.  Off-spinner: He was an off-spinner to begin with and as his career progressed, he improved his batting and emerged as a specialist batsman for his team. His First-Class record as a bowler stands impressive with 357 wickets in addition to his 110 List A wickets. The reason he decided to focus on his batting was the emergence of quality spinners in Sri Lanka. Also the batting greats were nearing the end of their careers. The decision proved to be the best of his life, as he went on to become an important batsman for the island team in Test cricket.

4.  The transformation: Samaraweera’s career changed 360 degrees in the year 2001 when he made his Test debut against India. In the third and final Test of the series, which was squared 1-1 by then, Samaraweera hit unbeaten 108 batting at No. 8. He was the fourth centurion in Sri Lanka’s innings apart from Marvan Atapattu, Jayawardene and Hashan Tillakaratne. Sri Lanka won the match by an innings and 77 runs and the series 2-1. Samaraweera-the-batsman had arrived.

5.  Indian connection: Samaraweera’s first scalps in Test and ODI cricket were Indians, as he dismissed Sourav Ganguly in Tests and Nayan Mongia in ODIs to bring in his maiden wickets in the formats. This in addition to his maiden Test ton, which was also against India.

6.  Backyard bully? Samaraweera had to often face this criticism of being a backyard bully as his record in the Indian subcontinent was far better than outside it. In Asia, he played 60 Tests and scored 4,275 runs with a highest score of 231 and 11 hundreds. He got these runs at an impressive average of 54.11. Outside Asia, Samaraweera played 21 Tests and managed 1,187 runs at an average of 35.96. He scored 3 centuries in these games with a best score of 125. However, his prolific run with the bat post 2008 changes this perception to a large extent.

7.  Crisis man: Samaraweera indeed was Sri Lanka’s crisis man. On numerous occasions, he bailed his team out of precarious situations. Some of his best knocks — 125 vs West Indies at Port of Spain in 2008, 102 vs South Africa at Durban in 2011, 115 not out vs South Africa at Cape Town in 2012, 83 vs India at Colombo in 2010 and 100 vs Pakistan at Faisalabad in 2004 came when the Sri Lankan team needed him the most.

8.  Brief ouster: The year 2005-06 saw Samaraweera hit a lean patch, as he could manage double-digit scores only four times in his last 14 innings. As a result, he was dropped from the team for around 18 months.

9.  Bradmanesque 2009: He returned to the team as an improved player and once again established himself into the squad. The year 2009 unarguably remains the best of his career, when he had a Bradman-like run in the 11 Tests he played. In those games, Samaraweera got 1,234 runs at a majestic average of 72.58. He also hit 4 sublime tons in the process — 2 of which were double tons against Pakistan — with a highest score of 231. The same year, he shared a record-breaking partnership of 437 for the fourth wicket with Jayawardene. This remains a world record for the fourth wicket in Tests.

10.  Machine-gun celebration: In the same year, Samaraweera’s machine-gun celebration in Pakistan also made waves. He hit a purple patch by scoring consecutive double centuries – 231 in the first Test in Karachi and 214 in the second Test in Lahore, and followed the latter with a machine-gun celebration. He took his bat under his right armpit and pretended firing bullets out of the handle. This celebration was new at international level, though he had done it several times in domestic cricket.

11.  Lahore attack: However, the celebration went horribly wrong when before the next day’s play as the terrorists attacked the team bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore. Samaraweera and four other cricketers, namely the skipper Jayawardene, his deputy Sangakkara,  Ajantha Mendis, and Tharanga Paravitarana were injured in the attack which killed six security men and two civilians. Samaraweera was worst affected, as a bullet pierced through his knee well inside his body by 12 inches. He had to undergo a surgery and stay away from cricket for four months as the tour got cancelled and an international ban was put on Pakistan, which remains till date.

12.  Return to cricket: The doctors had said he would never perhaps play cricket again. But a fighter that he is, Samaraweera left the crutches behind and made an emphatic return to the cricket field four months later to play the same opposition in Galle, scoring 34 and 31 in the Test.

13.  Teams represented: Samaraweera represented a number of teams during his decade and a half long career. Besides his national team Sri Lanka and domestic teams Colts Cricket Club, Kandurata, Sinhalese Sports Club, Sri Lanka A and Sri Lanka Board President’s XI, he played for Bangladeshi club Brothers Union and English County side Worcestershire.

14.  Other roles: After retiring from the game in 2013, Samaraweera decided to stay connected to cricket by taking mentorship roles. At present, he is the batting consultant for the Bangladesh cricket team for their upcoming home series against England. This is his second stint as a batting consultant with an international team, having already worked in the same capacity with the Australian team earlier this year.

15.  Family: Samaraweera is married to Erandathi Darshana and has two daughters named Osuni and Sidhtya.

 (A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)