With one-day cricket gaining prominence over the traditional Test cricket especially in the subcontinent all-rounders have come into the forefront in a big way. Seldom does a one-day side have 11 players sans an all-rounder. He could either be a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder. Any team with more than one genuine all-rounder gives the captain more options to win matches than one without one.
In this aspect Sri Lanka has been blessed with several all-rounders of world class none as devastating as Sanath Jayasuriya who has made the biggest impact in world cricket during his era by helping his country win the Cricket World Cup in 1996. He redefined the term of opening in One-Day International cricket by attacking the opening bowlers during the mandatory field restriction period by lofting their deliveries over the infielders.
The manner in which he tore apart almost every bowler in his era earned him names like the Master Blaster and the Matara Mauler. In actual fact Jayasuriya made his international debut for Sri Lanka as a slow left-arm orthodox bowler before a move to promote him to open changed the face of batting in ODI cricket. Jayasuriya is one of five players in ODI cricket to have scored over 10,000 runs, taken 100 wickets and held 100 catches.
India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and South Africa’s Jacques Kallis are the others who fall into that category. The latest cricketer to join this elite list is Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lankan opener and off-break bowler and at 38 still the best fielder in the current side. Dilshan who already had 104 wickets and 113 catches completed 10,000 runs in ODIs in the recently concluded series against Pakistan. Following the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara after the 2015 World Cup, Dilshan is the last man standing from that era who can lend some valuable experience to a team that is in transition.
Sri Lanka are currently in the process of rebuilding a team for the 2019 World Cup in England and whether Dilshan who has shown intentions of playing in that tournament figures in the mix is a matter of conjecture. He will be 42 by then but age is no barrier for a cricketer if he can compete with younger players and keep his place in the side. Knowing Dilshan there is nothing that will stop him from taking up that challenge which should keep him going for some time. He quit Test cricket in 2013 to prolong his career as a one-day player and he has been so far successful.
Like Jayasuriya, Dilshan batted lower down the order mostly at six, seven and sometimes at eight and his batting talent rarely surfaced until in 2009 when he was promoted to open against Pakistan. He produced scores of 42, 76 and 137 not out and not only helped Sri Lanka win the series but he also picked up the Man of the Series award. There was no turning back for Dilshan and as his stats prove he scored 21 of his 22 ODI centuries after that promotion in 2009. The odd one out was his first century (117 not out off 78 balls) when batting at no. 5 he helped Sri Lanka to a world record ODI total of 443-9 against Netherlands at Amstelveen in 2006.
Dilshan’s value to the team cannot be gauged merely in terms of figures and averages. What the figures don’t record is the number of runs he has saved on the field especially in his pet position at cover point and the number of run outs he has affected. On an average he saves about 20-30 runs and these combined with his figures of 10,007 runs, 104 wickets and 113 catches makes him an invaluable member in any one-day team and a dream player for any captain to have in his side.
He is the only Sri Lankan cricketer to have a batting stroke named after him called the ‘Dilscoop’ a shot which he invented during the 2009 World Twenty20 in England. The basis of the stroke to go on one knee to a good length ball off a fast or medium fast bowler and ‘scoop’ the ball over the head of the wicket-keeper made him the most successful batsman in the tournament with 317 runs at a strike rate of 144.74 and won him the Man of the Tournament award.
Dilshan and fast bowler Lasith Malinga are the last of a breed of top class performers currently around who have contributed to the success of Sri Lanka cricket immensely and kept the country on a high pedestal for many years, sometimes making it the envy of all other nations. The time is drawing near for a new generation of cricketers to take over as seen at the tail end of the ODI series and the start of the T20I series against Pakistan.