Tillakaratne Dilshan, born on October 14, 1976, is a Sri Lankan dasher who redefined batting in limited-overs cricket with his daredevilry. An all-round cricketer in every sense, Dilshan can bat, bowl, field and also keep wickets. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at Dilshan’s career.
In the modern game, teams look for multi-dimensional players who answer the call with performances in any department. Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lankan batsman, is an all-rounder in every sense. His batting is flamboyant, exciting and thrilling. With the ball, he gets you those crucial breakthroughs and is electric on the field. His cricketing acumen doesn’t end there as he can keep wickets as well. Give him any task on the cricket field and he won’t say no. For Sri Lanka, he has been a go-to man who formed the formidable triumvirate with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in the 2000s.
Initially known as Tuwan Mohammad Dilshan, he was born to a Muslim father and Buddhist mother on October 14, 1976. He later converted to Buddhism and changed his name to Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan. When he was 17, he made his First-Class debut for Western Province South during the 1993-94 season. He smashed his maiden First-Class ton in only his second game. By 1998, he was on the selector’s radar as he represented a few Sri Lankan representative sides. During the 1998-99 season, he hit 1,027 runs in 14 matches at an average of 51.35. That helped him play for Sri Lanka A on their tour to England in 1999, where he scored 562 runs in five matches at 62.44 with two tons and three fifties. Later that year, he was to get his international call-up.
Debut and early international career
Dilshan’s first international tour was to Zimbabwe in 1999. He made his Test debut at Bulawayo in November that year. In his second Test, which was at Harare, he showed his potential by smashing 163 not out which setup a victory. Later on the tour, he made his One-Day International (ODI) debut and hit 35 on debut. In his fifth ODI, he hit 53 to record his first fifty.
Although flamboyant, Dilshan had a tough time during his initial days in international cricket. He continued to be a part of the Sri Lankan sides in both formats. Until March 2001, he was fairly regular in the Test side, but wasn’t able to score more than 50 in any innings. After a tough series against England at home, he was axed from the Tests. In ODIs, he was in and out of the side and wasn’t getting the big score. Batting lower down the order, it wasn’t all that easy.
But, with the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Attapatu, Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Hashan Tillakaratne in the side, there weren’t too many spots up for grabs. Dilshan missed the bus to the 2003 World Cup.
Dilshan returned to the Sri Lankan one-day side soon after the World Cup in 2003. Later that year, when England arrived, he showed his destructive abilities when he smashed 100 in 129 balls in the second Test at Kandy. A few months down the line, he scored a more resolute ton against Australia. Battling Shane Warne at his best, Dilshan was patient and led the way for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lost that game and also the series 3-0.
As the years went by, Dilshan did establish himself in the Sri Lankan side. His performances in ODIs were stable if not spectacular. He would majorly bat in the middle-order and opportunities to get a big score were hard to come by. On the tour to India in 2005, he showed his true potential as a one-day batsman when he scored three consecutive fifties in what was a disastrous campaign. His first fifty of the series came at Pune in the fourth ODI, which was only his third overall in the format. Then, in the fifth ODI at Ahmedabad, his 81 not out anchored a tough run-chase under lights and sealed the only win on the tour.
Dilshan smashed his first ODI hundred during a game against Netherlands in 2006. He was also a part of Sri Lanka’s 2007 World Cup squad.
The star rises
Dilshan always had a threatening presence in the side, but wasn’t very consistent. All that changed in 2009, when he was promoted to open the batting during the short tour to Pakistan.
Before that, he started the year with scores of 162 and 143 in a Test match against Bangladesh, albeit batting in the middle-order. During the decisive third ODI at Lahore, he carried his bat through the innings and scored 137 not out. That helped them win the game. It was truly an innings that was to herald a new era for him. During the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009 in South Africa, he was one of the success stories and won hearts with his ‘daredevilry’ in the Delhi Daredevils jersey. It was during that tour that he invented the famous shot that is now known as the ‘Dilscoop’. Attempting a sweep off a fast-bowler, Dilshan gave it a ramp and discovered a new way of scoring runs.
It was a shot that was audacious and entertaining to watch. It targeted one area on the park where a fielder wasn’t placed. The risk involved was great as Dilshan put his head in line with a thunderbolt. Irrespective of the pace of the ball, he went for it. That added a new dimension to his game and spiced things up with him in the middle. Following a successful spell at the IPL, he carried that form into the ICC World T20 2009 in England.
In a tournament that saw Sri Lanka make it to the final, Dilshan was the star. In almost every game, he contributed by getting Sri Lanka off to great starts up-front. The ‘Dilscoop’ was a prominent feature and continued to boggle the mind. In the tournament, he scored 317 runs in seven matches. However, in the final, Mohammad Aamer bounced him out in the very first over which jolted Sri Lanka and they never quite recovered. Dilshan won the Man of the Tournament award, but Sri Lanka were beaten comprehensively in the final.
Despite that defeat, Dilshan’s glorious form continued. During the Test series against New Zealand and Pakistan at home, he continued to shine. In the Test series against Pakistan, he had to keep wickets as well because Prasanna Jayawardene wasn’t available. Later on, during the series against New Zealand, he was promoted to open the batting and hit a ton in his very first Test. In the first innings, he 92 off only 72 balls and followed it up with 123 not out in the second.
In many ways, Dilshan carried forward the trend set by Matthew Hayden, Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle. The new ball bowlers were attacked from the word go and the age old practice of seeing off the first hour was a thing of the past. On the tour to India, he smashed two centuries in the Test series, but wasn’t able to win it for them. Then during a remarkable ODI at Rajkot, he smashed 160 while Sri Lanka were chasing 415. However, once he lost his wicket, Sri Lanka collapsed and lost the game by a mere four runs. In the next ODI, he had his revenge when his innings of 124 ensured they chased 302.
When compared to the successful 2009, the year 2010 was slightly mellow. He did lead a depleted Sri Lankan side on the tour to Zimbabwe, where he scored a ton in the final of the tri-series. Later, he scored another ODI century in the final of another tri-series at home featuring New Zealand and India.
He tuned up to his A-game at the 2011 World Cup. He was the leading run-scorer of the tournament with 500 runs at 62.50, including two hundreds and two fifties. During the quarter-final against England, his ton ensured the Lankans won without any hurdles. In the final, he was slow to start with but gave Sri Lanka some hope during the Indian innings. By taking the wicket of Virat Kohli, he got them back in the game as India were 114 for three, chasing 275. It was a moment that summed up Dilshan the cricketer. A leading edge from Kohli flew back at him and Dilshan flung himself to his right and snapped a catch mid-air. But, it wasn’t enough again.
Captain and after
Following the defeat in the final of the 2011 World Cup, Sangakkara shocked the cricketing world by resigning from captaincy. He said that the call was to allow the team management to groom another leader with the next World Cup in mind. Thus, it was quite surprising when Dilshan was named the captain, someone who is a year older than both Sangakkara and Jayawardene. His first assignment as captain was the tour to England that summer.
A few Sri Lankan players arrived a little late in England as they were involved with the IPL. Dilshan was picked up by the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the auction that year and would go on to form a destructive opening partnership with Chris Gayle, although the latter made him look a lot slower.
Coming back to the Test series against England, the first game at Cardiff was moving towards a draw until Sri Lanka were bowled out for 82 on the final day as the hosts stole an innings victory. With all the pressure on him, Dilshan produced an innings of 193 at Lord’s in the second Test. He missed the final Test due to injury and Sangakkara was forced to lead. In fact, he scored those 193 with a broken finger.
Sri Lanka continued to slump under his leadership. The batting was inconsistent and they kept failing even at home. After losing the ODI series in England 2-3, they were beaten at home by Australia in both the Tests and the ODI series. One of the high points of Dilshan’s captaincy was his T20 hundred against Australia at Pallekele. Sri Lanka were batting first and at the end of the 15th over, Dilshan was on 41 off 36 balls. He then went berserk and got to his hundred in the last over. To move from 41 to 104, it took him only 21 balls and the innings was full of his typical audacious strokes.
Then, Pakistan also defeated them in both the rubbers in the United Arab Emirates. By the time Sri Lanka landed in South Africa in December, there was only one favourite. However, Sri Lanka did surprise the hosts at Durban when they won the match by 208 runs. Later, they were 3-0 down in the ODI series, but managed to win the last two ODIs while chasing totals over 300. In the fourth game at Kimberly, Dilshan dazzled with 87 and the ‘Dilscoop’ also featured.
However, after the tour, he resigned from captaincy and Jayawardene took over for a year. Dilshan regained his batting form during the tri-series Down Under by scoring 160 not out against India at Hobart. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lost the game again due to Virat Kohli’s pyrotechnics. He also scored 106 in one of the finals as Sri Lanka squared up that affair to go into a third game. Dilshan’s form has then continued in all formats and his most significant score (147) came against Australia at Hobart in December 2012.
On October 10, 2013, Dilshan announced that he would retire from Test cricket. However, his announcement was overshadowed by Tendulkar’s call on the same day. The newspapers were dominated by Tendulkar as Dilshan only found a small mention in the sports pages. If only it had come later, the media could have given him a better send-off.
Yet, he will continue to play limited-overs internationals. As he turns 37, he continues to be one of the fittest in world cricket and is still electric on the field. If he maintains his fitness and form, he would be a crucial part of their 2015 World Cup plans. Nevertheless, history would remember him for his idiosyncratic batting and of course the ‘Dilscoop’.
Dilshan’s career statistics (as of October 14, 2013):
In Photos: Cricketing career of Tillakaratne Dilshan