Not many teams from the subcontinent fancy an outing in Australian conditions, but Sri Lanka will beg to differ. Although they were comprehensively outplayed by the hosts in the longer version of the game, the challenge presented to them during One-Day Internationals (ODI) is something the visitors seem to relish, time and again. In the last few years Down Under, the Sri Lankans have already trumped the Australians in a bilateral contest, knocked India out and barged their way into the finals of the Commonwealth Bank series in 2012, and are level with the hosts this time around.
Had rain not intervened during the fourth ODI at Sydney, there was a high probability of the result tilting in favour of the Sri Lankans.
In their last 15 ODIs played at Australia, the Sri Lankans have lost just six. Although established batsmen like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews feature in the batting line-up, bowling has always been Sri Lanka’s mainstay, even after the exit of a stalwart in the form of Muttiah Muralitharan. The towering presence of Lasith Malinga has neutralised any sting that could have possibly been felt with that void that was created.
However, during this transition phase, Nuwan Kulasekara’s contributions have taken a backseat. The unorthodoxy of Ajantha Mendis and the left-arm guile of Rangana Herath were often talked about, but seldom was light shed on Kulasekara’s performances. Now, as he ends the ODI series against Australia as the highest wicket-taker, it’s heartwarming to note that the immense value he adds to the Sri Lankan side is finally being realised.
“Nuwan has been very consistent for us for quite a few years, and he's built a nice little partnership with Lasith. It's not just in-swingers. He's bowling the outer ones as well now, which keeps straight and a bit of seam as well,” said captain Jayawardene.
During his debut against England at Dambulla back in 2003, Kulasekara stood out in a bowling attack that featured first-rate bowlers like Chaminda Vaas, Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando. He conceded 19 runs for two wickets from 9 overs and gave a glimpse into what he was capable of on the big stage. In due course of time, his deliveries ceased to be venomous, but the fact that he staged a comeback, against all odds, to take 47 wickets between April 2008 and March 2009, spoke volumes of his character. Rightfully then, he blazed his way to the top of the list featuring the best ODI bowlers in 2009, and stayed put at that position for a considerable amount of time.
Part of Kulasekara’s success can be attributed to Malinga. The latter has instilled a sense of fear into many an opposition and they are exorbitantly watchful when dealing with him. As a reason, batsmen tend to loosen up against the rest, and Kulasekara deserves a pat on his back for using this situation to his benefit. The effort he puts is there to be seen in each of his deliveries, and that is what has made him a force to reckon with during recent times.
He has been Sri Lanka’s most successful bowler in ODIs since the last five years after Malinga.
Below are the statistics, since January 2008
The slight variation in his average when compared to the rest is understandable, considering the number of matches he’s featured in, but his economy rate is better than the country’s premium fast bowler, and that deserves praise.
During the same phase, if just the performances away from home are taken into account, then Kulasekara finds himself slightly ahead of Malinga in the wickets column - and that is due to the additional 13 games he’s played comparatively - but he’s almost on par with the average and, yet again, sports a better economy rate.
These matches were spanned across Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Zimbabwe and England.
Since his debut in 2003, Kulasekara has bowled the maximum number of overs for Sri Lanka in ODIs, and is the joint second highest wicket-taker alongside Muralitharan.
Although it’s unlikely that his name will be mentioned in the class of Malinga or Muralitharan, statistics will continue to reveal the immense value he adds to this Sri Lankan side. A replication of the purple patch he hit in 2009 could drastically nullify the previous statement, but for now, he remains an unsung hero.
(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_
First Published: January 24, 2013, 10:54 am