Upul Tharanga

Born February 2, 1985, Warushavithana Upul Tharanga is a Sri Lankan batsman and occasional wicketkeeper who serves as the opener as well as middle-order batsman for the island nation s team. A classical left-handed batsman, Tharanga rose through the age group cricket and was earmarked as the one for future. After doing well for the Sri Lanka A team, he was finally picked to the senior squad, capping off a tragic year that saw his home being washed away in Tsunami. Although he got a good start to his career, Tharanga has largely remained a player who has not fulfilled his true potential. On his birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 11 facts from the life of the cricketer, who is also a philanthropist and never shies away from helping the ones in need.

1. Early life: Upul Tharanga was born in Balapitiya but raised in Ambalagonda. His father had a fishing business. He completed his education at Dharmasoka College. A keen follower of the game, Tharanga started his cricket career as a teenager at his school. Playing for Nondescripts happened at the age of 15 and then he went on to play for Sri Lanka’s under-15, under-17 and under-19 squads.

2. Under-19 World Cups: Tharanga made seamless transition from age-group development cricket to senior level. He was first picked for the Under-19 World Cup 2002, which was a forgettable experience for the 17-year old as he scored just 55 runs in six games. But he more than made up for it in the Under-19 World Cup 2004, where he was the highest scorer for Sri Lanka. He scored 203 runs in six games at an average over 33 and got a hundred and a fifty. His 117 against South Africa and 42-ball 61 against India were enough to convince the Sri Lankan selectors that he was one for the future.

3. Loughton Cricket Club, Essex: After a successful U-19 World Cup, Tharanga was picked for another successful tour with the under-19 team to Pakistan, where he scored half-centuries in each of the two Tests and two one-day matches,. Buoyed by his success, the Sri Lankan board sent him to play league cricket in Essex, where he starred for the Loughton Cricket Club.

4. Tsunami: The 2004 Indian ocean earthquake and the Tsunami, that created havoc in Southern India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, affected millions of lives. One such family that lost its home in Abmbalagonda was of Tharanga. Only 19 then, Tharanga had played a match in Colombo the day before, and was setting out for home when he had news of the disaster. When he returned to his neighbourhood, he found “nothing was there”

5. Sangakkara steps in: Tharanga also lost his cricket equipment to the Tsunami. This is when he was supported by one of Sri Lanka s greatest cricketers and a legend Kumar Sangakkara, who replaced his cricket gear that was being washed away with the new one. Tharanga took three months leave from the game, as he and his family began to reorganize their lives, and found a friend and mentor in club teammate Sangakkara, who helped set his cricket on track again by getting him an English willow bat, canvas pads, gloves, a helmet and more besides

A rejuvenated Tharanga soon broke into the Sri Lankan A team and subsequently in the Sri Lanka team within seven months of the tragic Tsunami. This was a remarkable comeback which defined his character that refused to be bogged down by the adversities.

6. Career marked by inconsistency: For somebody who has 13 ODI tons to his name, Tharanga doesn t quite inspire the confidence. His career record doesn t justify the talent he possesses, as he has been frustratingly inconsistent for his country over the years. This has meant that he has found himself frequently in and out of the team. Already in the tenth year of his career, he has just 21 Test caps to his name. Though he has played 180 ODIs, his career largely remains unfulfilled.

7. Partnership record: Tharanga is the second batsman in the world who was involved in partnerships in excess of 200 runs seven times in ODI cricket. The only other player to achieve this feat is former Australian captain Ricky Ponting.

8. Doping violation: Tharanga was handed a three-month suspension from all cricket related activities by the ICC for failing a drugs test during the 2011 World Cup. A urine sample provided by him after the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand on March 29 was found to have two substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Tharanga, who maintained that he had taken them inadvertently during his asthma treatment, pleaded guilty. The ICC accepted the offence was not deliberate and suspended him for three months, post completion of which he was back on the cricket field.

9. Captaincy: Towards the end of 2016, Tharanga was chosen to lead the Lankan side in a Tri-Nation series in Zimbabwe against the host and West Indies. He was appointed as the skipper because skipper Angelo Mathews was injured and vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal was still unfit from an injury. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka won the series by beating Zimbabwe in the final by 6 wickets.

After that series, Tharanga was back in the side as pure batsman but as fate would have it, he was reinstated as captain in the ODI series in South Africa. This time Mathews injury meant he was rested while Chandimal in the side but remained as the player.

10. Personal life: Tharanga got married to Nilanka Vithanage, who apparently is his team-mate and opening partner Tillakaratne Dilshan s ex-wife. She even has a child named Resadu Tilakaratne with Dilshan. There are rumours that Tharanga caused rift between Dilshan and Vithanage and is a reason behind their divorce. Despite this, both Tharanga and Dilshan have shared many memorable opening stands in ODIs.

11. Philanthropist: Tharanga and Lasith Malinga did a wonderful gesture when they donated cricket gears to their respective former schools in 2006. The distribution was done through the Foundation of Goodness as a part of the ongoing effort to rehabilitate the victims of the Tsunami. Sri Lankan cricket legends Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan are other players who are actively involved with the Foundation of Goodness to give back to the society.

(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)