Dasun Shanaka made his Test debut special with 3 crucial wickets against England © Getty Images
Dasun Shanaka made his Test debut special with 3 crucial wickets against England © Getty Images

After months of Twenty20 (T20) cricket overdose, the followers of world cricket finally get to see the whites as England host Sri Lanka for a series that includes five Tests. Looking at the sides and the playing conditions, England have been the sure favorites for the series right from the beginning. Off late, Sri Lanka’s fortunes in international cricket has not smiled on them. Skipper Angelo Mathews, alongside a few experienced players, is trying to build what is called a team with a handful of rookies. As the world looked at the first Test at Headingley for England to trounce the Lankan bowlers, they received a surprise in the form of Dasun Shanaka. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: England vs Sri Lanka 2016 1st Test, Day 1 at Headingley, Leeds

It was not the first time that Shanaka had outclassed the experienced ones on debut. The bowler made his international debut during a Twenty20 International (T20I) series  Indian soil, against India ahead of the ICC World T20 2016. Sri Lanka were at a rebuilding phase and unsure of the players who can be the best options for the tournament, they went almost for a trial and error method. The squad they declared for India tour consisted of young players mostly, creating a similar scenario as the current England tour. India, at home and with experienced names by their side, were the sure favorites. Cricket enthusiasts did not leave a single opportunity to add adjectives like ‘thumping’, ‘thrashing’ etc. in their predictions where they saw India winning the series 3-o hands down.

The Maharashtra State Association Stadium at Pune geared up to host the first of the three T20Is. The home crowd turned up full of confidence to see their heroes hand the visitors a defeat they could remember forever, despite the absence of Virat Kohli in the team. Sri Lanka won the toss and Mathews promptly chose to field. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan came out to bat. What happened next was beyond anyone’s expectations.

India lost the first two wickets in the first over, thanks to Kasun Rajitha. The bowler created, even more chances and later on removed Shikhar Dhawan who never looked comfortable in the innings.

India still had hopes, for even after a disastrous start, there were India’s middle-order batsmen, to be specific, MS Dhoni, to get the things back on track. Suresh Raina was at the crease as well, which boosted the confidence a bit more. Raina looked aggressive and had started to hit freely but looking at the situation, it only backfired. Mathews handed the ball to Shanaka in the eighth over.

The bowler’s first international delivery produced a chance to get Raina out. As the batsman went high above square leg, Milinda Siriwardana dropped an easy catch in the deep and awarded 2 runs to India. Sweet revenge came the very next ball, as Shanaka’s next delivery hit the leg stump and Raina was bowled.

To the bowler’s delight, he got an all experienced MS Dhoni in the same over for a mere 2, bagging Hardik Pandya in the next ball. Shanaka completed with 3 for 16.

The Headingley Test saw an almost similar start. With Dhammika Prasad being ruled out, Sri Lanka were left with lesser options in the form of experienced bowlers. Mathews did not take the risk to introduce Shanaka before the first drinks break. It was the 18th over and for a Test debutant, Shanaka did excellent. Bowling consistently at the corridor of uncertainty, Shanaka kept on teasing both, Alex Hales and Alastair Cook. He conceded none except a single off Hales’ pad in the over.

A couple of overs later, Shanaka got his first success in the form of a wicket of the England skipper. In an attempt to send Shanaka over cover, Cook edged it to the keeper’s gloves. Cook will have to wait for another day for the elusive record of being the youngest entrant to the 10,000-run club. To Shanaka’s delight, after facing a couple of dots, Nick Compton also edged it to first slip where Lahiru Thirimanne took a brilliant low catch. Shanaka finished a maiden over with a couple of wickets.

But what made his spell look more attractive is the wicket he bagged next. Considered as one of the most talented cricketers of this era, Joe Root took Shanaka too lightly to play the full-length delivery for a drive and ended up getting caught at third slip. Shanaka’s exploits left England tottering at 56 for the loss of 3 wickets before lunch.

Though one might say the hint of grass along with early morning wind came into action to move the ball, Shanaka’s efforts to perform with such brilliance on both the debuts has to be highly praised. But bowling is not all that the player has. A flamboyant middle-order batsman as he is, Shanaka scored a century against Leicestershire coming out at No. 8 just before the Test series. Is he the next big thing in Sri Lanka cricket? Time will tell.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)