The multi-tasking value of Tillakaratne Dilshan

Tillakaratne Dilshan celebrates his century against Zimbabwe in World Cup Group A match © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

If there is one man who can bat, bowl, field and keep wickets to great effect, it is Tillakaratne Dilshan. Dilshan is an all-rounder in the truest sense as he can do anything on the cricket field. His batting is full of flair which can destroy any bowling attack on his day, his captains use his bowling to break partnerships and his fielding is absolutely electric. When required, he can keep wickets as well. Is there anything on the cricket field he cannot do!

 

Dilshan was first picked for his country during Sri Lanka’s tour to Zimbabwe in late 1999. He performed immediately by smashing 163 not out in just his second Test match. In the ODI series that followed he was consistent as he got starts and converted one of them into his maiden half century. The start to his career was promising but a few indifferent performances later on saw him in and out of the side till the year 2003.

 

When Aravinda de Silva retired after the 2003 World Cup, the Sri Lankan middle order needed a player who could dominate the bowling and Dilshan was the automatic choice and since then he has been a regular in the Sri Lankan ODI setup. However, he used to bat in the middle order and hence couldn’t get the big scores. He would get the quick 30’s and 40’s but couldn’t really convert them into big scores as he wasn’t left with too many balls to play. I remember when Sri Lanka toured India in the year 2005, he scored just his third ODI fifty in his 60th-odd game which was surprising given his talent. He followed that with two more fifties and it just showed what he was capable of. The Sri Lankan top order was collapsing in almost every game of that series but Dilshan stood firm. That was his first real opportunity to bat for a number of overs and he really capitalized on that. One got a glimpse of what he could do if he spent enough time in the middle.

 

The turning point of Dilshan’s career was Sri Lanka’s tour to Pakistan in early 2009. In the three match ODI series he was asked to open the batting and he performed in every game. In the final ODI he scored a magnificent 137 and carried his bat through the innings. The new position in the batting order started paying rich dividends immediately and he made it his own. His aggressive strokeplay and the ability to run between the wickets were vital ingredients for his success as an opener immediately after assuming that role.

 

Dlishan became the “Star Dilshan” during the ICC 2009 T20 World Cup. Since the retirement of Romesh Kaluwitharana, the Sri Lankan opening pair was all about Sanath Jayasuriya, irrespective of who walked out with him. Seldom was his partner spoken about but that changed in England that year. Dilshan matched Jayasuriya for every stroke and ended up being the highest run getter of the tournament. The ‘Dilscoop’ was seen for the first time, a stroke that has baffled cricket fans world over. Dilshan made hitting the ball over the wicket-keeper look so easy. When he plays that shot it looks as if he has all the time in the world to play it. It signifies one of his qualities that is “fearless” as he played that shot successfully even against the fastest bowlers.

 

Dilshan’s batting is full of flair and fluency. His hand eye co-ordination is fantastic and many times he doesn’t have to move his feet to play the widish deliveries. He waits back and throws his hands at such deliveries; all that power takes it to the boundary. The fluency and flair is visible in test cricket as well where he has been equally prolific. Most of the times he scores at almost a run a ball which brings life into the test match and keeps the viewers glued to their television sets.

 

As I have mentioned earlier, Dilshan’s game is multi-dimensional. When the opposition batsmen are going strong, Kumar Sangakkara turns to him to roll his arm over. Even though the Sri Lankan spin attack is very strong, Dilshan plays the vital role of the partnership breaker when the team needs. It is because he is in a team that contains the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, his bowling is underused otherwise he would have had a lot more wickets to show.

 

When Prasanna Jayawardana injured himself prior to Pakistan’s tour to Sri Lanka in 2009, Dilshan was asked to don the wicket-keeping gloves. He had kept in a few limited overs games but to do it in a Test match is something completely different. The calls of the Lankan selectors were answered as he kept wickets very efficiently and effected quite a few dismissals. Some of the catches he took and the run outs he effected in that series were brilliant. It just goes to show that he is your go to man if you are the team manager of a team in crisis.

 

In the last two years we have seen the real Dilshan. He is more consistent and more aggressive in his approach than he ever was. The ploy to move him up the order was probably the best decision the Sri Lankan team management have made since the decision to open the batting with Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana. Today, he is more valuable to the team as an opener and has proved to be a very worthy successor to Jayasuriya. Today, Dlishan is to Sri Lanka what Jayasuriya was to them for many years – a multi-tasking player who brings enormous value to the side.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)