Posts Tagged ‘Akila Dananjaya’


Goutham Chakravarthi

If you have been to Sri Lanka you’ll know that there are few nicer people than them. And if you happened to know people from the Caribbean you also realize that few are as full of life as them. In more ways, this is also a battle between two nations, one, which has produced the most natural of bowlers over the past decade and another that has produced the most natural T20 players in the format’s brief history.

Contrastingly, pundits and fans of the West Indies think their captain, Darren Sammy is a liability and is taking up Russell or Dwayne Smith out of the team while some think he has managed to keep the team together and ride through tough waters. On the other hand, the brilliant Mahela Jayawardene has maneuvered his team and made inspirational player picks and brilliant on field decisions. That he is yet to commit to a long tenure as captain long tells of issues beyond his control. Cricket outside of the field has been eventful for both finalists over the last few years.

Gayle has been the inspiration behind Windies’ resurgence. © Reuters

While West Indies have made as much news for their Gangnam dances on the field as they have for partying in their hotel rooms, their form coming in to the finals will be worrisome for the Sri Lankan management. Not much seems impossible for their batting when they click as a unit.

It is apparent to the eye from outside that Gayle is the leader of these men and his contributions in playing the anchor and the grenade launcher and switching back and forth with the same ease he breaks in to his various celebratory dance moves. It was apparent when Samuels bowled the Super Over against New Zealand ahead of Narine that he had the final say in the on field meeting with Darren Sammy.

It would be daft to think that getting Gayle out early would seal the victory for the Lions. Gayle perhaps has been the reason and belief in Johnson Charles, Samuels, Bravo and Pollard having contributed immensely in tough situations. They, along with Sri Lanka, seem to have the team covered for all situations and conditions – including having the best answers for Super Over situations.

The wickets have slowed down and will aid spinners and clever medium pacers that favour the cunning. Expect Mahela to throw surprises at the West Indies with team selection and bowling changes. His horses-for-courses team selection has proved to be inspiring: be it either picking Herath in the semifinals over Dhanajaya or opening the bowling with Angelo Mathews. It is hard not to think Mahela bowling Dilshan and Kualasekara with the new ball to Gayle on Sunday evening.

It has been a tournament where most things have gone well for Mahela barring the loss to South Africa at Hambantota. His batting will still hold the key for his team either batting first or chasing. His batting under pressure and on difficult tracks are a thing of beauty. Twice in a span of 18 months he has played champion knocks when it mattered most for his team (ICC World Cup 2011 finals and in the semi-finals the other day against Pakistan).

Mahela has been spectacular as a tactician, leader and batsman. © AFP

Also, Mahela has the knack to smell tactics and seems to be able to move away from a pre-decided plan on his instinct. It is this aspect of his cricket from which Sri Lanka seems to have benefited with him back at the helm after Dilshan stepped down.

It is, of course, silly to pin the credit of his team’s entire success on Mahela alone for his troops stand by him and in Sangakkara, he has an able ally in implementing his various plans. But it must also not be forgotten that he seems to be the type to go out of his way to pick the players he wants: Dananjaya being a point in case. Nor did he seem hesitant to pick Herath over Danajaya given Herath’s success over Pakistan in Test cricket and the captain’s opinion that Pakistan had difficulties against left-arm spin. His inspired selection proved to be a differentiating factor in the end. Nor does the very promising Dinesh Chandimal feature in the captain’s scheme of things in this world cup.

Often, it is the captain who takes the major chunk of the blame should things go wrong in this part of the world, and often it is a very fine line between being inspirational and being insipid. Mahela duly deserves credits for being innovative and bold. Long may his instincts serve his country as its captain.

As the two best teams this tournament square-off on Sunday, it might boil down to a battle of wits at the end. And Jayawardene should fancy his chances of getting his hands around ICC silverware at long last!

This is a published article in Island Cricket


Goutham Chakravarthi

Cricket at the highest level is – beyond all – a game played in the mind. Something about choking lingers longer and haunts South Africans still. Their captain even admitted to it recently. Such are the mental scars.

Apparently, after the first ball of the ICC World Cup in ’07, Chaminda Vaas confided to fearing the worst as Gilchrist laced an off-drive to the cover fielder. Since the incident Sri Lankans have reached the final stages regularly only to be pipped at the crossing-line. It can seem the most difficult thing to shake off such defeats. Some resign to defeat and some overcome those challenges. Just ask Andy Murray.

The issues with not being able to cross the final hurdle might have been dusted away in slight by its captain, but, it must rankle the team and the management after being so close so often. Often they have run in to towering players at their pinnacle. Gilchrist at Kensington Oval, Afridi at Lord’s and Dhoni at Wankhede. Their champions have soared too, but just not as high. After all, it is difficult to imagine a more pristine or dominating innings than Mahela’s in a cup final. Still Murali being taken apart in ’07 and Malinga in ’11 eventually hurt their chances.

They were billed as among the favourites before this tournament began. They have waded through the silliness of a seven-over caper, the thrills of a Super Over and the disappointment of not being able to play at their preferred venues.

Their batting at times has looked top-heavy, but their slew of big-hitting all-rounders is proving to be their biggest strength yet. Mahela has handled his resources quite shrewdly. His batting form will also hold key for the hosts’ victory bid. He knows that with the tournament moving back to familiar territory at the Premadasa, this might yet be their best chance to get past the final hurdle.

Skipper Jayawardene holds the key that will open the door seperating an ICC Final from an ICC Trophy © Zimbio

Form and reputation count for little in this format. Pakistan has shown Australia that the mighty can fall, and India shows Pakistan that enough pressure can crush any opposition.

All the four teams will believe they have a chance to win the cup. Sri Lanka will believe that with their nemesis India out of its way their time might already have come.

The little island can be proud of the quality and originality of the cricketers it produces though the game is still politically shrouded with miscreants with personal interests at heart.

True to their tradition, they have unearthed a talented mystery spinner – who seems to be made of the right stuff at first look – on whose flick of the fingers might reside their chances of the world cup itself. Criticized for being more a model than a cricketer and as seen more interested in IPL than his country, Malinga would be keen to carry his form from the last game in to the knock outs to prove a point to his detractors.

Fears are that the memories of the ’96 triumph will fade with every ICC final ending unconverted © Farm4 Flickr

Inspiration to win world cups can be found from anywhere: cancer hospitals, throwing allegations; as can be greatness: from the streets of Karachi, factories in Kandy, to the beaches of Caribbean. May be it is time Jayawardene and Co. script history for themselves. The ’96 victory gave immense joy to the nation. That was 16 years ago and many teenagers will be aching to experience the joy. The first team to do it will always hold a special place, their pinnacle put above their many struggles and failures before and after. It is not beyond the pale to imagine the inspiration, for the likes of Malinga will come from the want to prove that his heart is in tournaments that count and show. He has publicly

Mahela and Co. might well believe that their time has come to set it right. Mahela might be the shrewder captain to the hegemony of Arjuna; Sangakkara the greater batsman to Aravinda’s flashes of genius, thrill, sizzle and fizzle; yet, till the mountain the scaled and peak captured, Mahela and team will remain bridesmaids to the ’96 champions.

This is a published article in Island Cricket


Goutham Chakravarthi

Though the rains in parts of Sri Lanka have been persistent, the tournament is finally gathering momentum with the beginning of Super Eight stages. Insofar only Afghanisthan added some colour to the tournament with their brand of brash and volatile cricket. Having seen a few of their players and staff at a restaurant in Colombo, they seemed to be thrilled to be a part of the tournament and seemed eager to do well.

Afghanistan’s progress has been rapid but, as has been seen in this tournament, their cricket still is raw and borders more on the emotional than on the rational. With time, the hope is that they improve their game whilst not losing the flair that has warmed the hearts of many who have seen them in this World Twenty20 tournament.

The heart-stopping tie that Sri Lanka eventually won in the super over is a reminder of the thrills T20 cricket can provide fans, spectators and players. Fists were seen pumping at the end by the batsmen in the middle and their teammates in the dug out. The next moment, the smiles were wiped off their faces when it turned out that New Zealand captain Ross Taylor had managed to knee a run-out off the last ball.

Akila Dananjaya impressed with his mixture of offies, leggies and googlies.

It was an evening where fortune changed sides more often than rains starting and stopping in the southern coasts of Sri Lanka. Taylor’s knee might have aided the match going in to the super over, it tested the umpires and players; and all will be glad for the experience, should they get in to a similar situation later in the tournament.

Earlier, Angelo Mathews and Ajantha Mendis had shaken off their injury scares to make it into the final XI. But the attention was on Akila Dananjaya once his name appeared in the starting line-up. His spin menu included flighted leg-breaks, googlies and offies. In short, it is enough to keep the English team up at night before their game against the Sri Lankans.

However, given the history of off-spinners from the sub-continent whose actions have often been scrutinised, Dananjaya’s might well be questioned.

The theory that established Test nations have worked out Mendis further gathered ground, as he was sent for 48 runs off his 4 overs — his worst T20 figures coming into the game. The theory that established Test nations have worked out Mendis further gathered ground, as he was sent for 48 runs off his 4 overs — his worst T20 figures. Mystery injuries have also clouded the career of this mystery spinner, and how much faith the Sri Lankan management has in him for future games remains to be seen.

Rangana Herath is a very fine bowler after all, and with Dananjaya holding his own even with the onslaught very much on, the management might be tempted to have the experienced Herath back in the team. With the pitch at Pallekelle offering more than enough turn, as was seen in Premadasa in the India-England game, it will not be a surprise to see more teams resorting to spin for both attack and defence.

The batting looked in rich form with Tillakaratne Dilshan finding fluency. Sri Lanka’s side is packed with several allrounders, so there is a school of thought — as Taylor pointed out — that they might lack batting depth and be too top heavy. So far, it has not proved to be a problem with the likes of Jeevan Mendis and Thisara Perera holding their own with the bat. Mathews has proved to be a reliable finisher and Lahiru Thirimanne is proving to be one of late as well.

West Indies and England are the other two teams in the group, and given England’s form against spin in the recent past and their form against India and West Indies, it will be a surprise if Sri Lanka do not find themselves in the semi-finals.

The objective would be to have peaked as a team by then and hope to have a couple of their match-winners in red-hot form. Sri Lanka have found themselves within reach of winning ICC tournaments many times in the recent past, and they will be one of the teams favoured to win.

Mahela Jayawardene’s men displayed the ability to handle the mental side of the game well in the super over finish today, and the hosts will hope to be at the finals this time too in order to have another crack at crossing the final hurdle.

This is a published article in Island Cricket.


Goutham Chakravarthi

With the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 also taking place in Sri Lanka, the Galle International Cricket Stadium is a hive of activity these days. The man responsible for getting the stadium in shape for the women’s league matches starting later this week is former Sri Lankan Test cricketer Jayananda Warnaweera. Apart from being the curator at the venue and the secretary of the Southern Province Cricket Association, Warnaweera is also on the executive committee of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

I am not a great fan of T20 cricket: Warnaweera. He is seen with CouchExperts Chandra and Goutham in this picture.

You played for Galle Cricket Club, and you were among the first to represent Sri Lanka from here. Who are the others?

Like New South Wales in Australia or Mumbai in India, Colombo is the cricket epicentre for Sri Lanka. I played cricket from here for two-and-half decades and was the first to break into the Test team from Galle. It paved the way for others like Champaka Ramanayake and Upul Chandana later. Even Marvan Atapattu is from here. Now, Upul Tharanga from Galle is in the national team as well. So, we have consistently been producing Test players from Galle from the time I broke in. Unfortunately with Galle, like with other outstations being limited in terms of opportunities, a lot of these cricketers move to places like Colombo after school and in search of job opportunities.

Are there steps taken by SLC to ensure talent remains in their regions?

There are various measures being evaluated to ensure we retain people in the local provinces. Chief among them are proposals at the provincial level where eligibility for representing the province will be earned only if you represent a club from the province. There are many such ideas being considered and we hope to provide long-term solutions.

We are about a week from the start of the women’s league games, a lot of work is being done here at the stadium already; how is the interest with ladies cricket here and what kind of numbers do you foresee for these games at Galle?

This is an ICC event and all ticket-related things are handled by the ICC. The good thing is these games are free of charge for the spectators. Sri Lankans have been known to follow the men’s game more and it is the same everywhere. But we still expect to see five to six thousand people to show up at the ground for every match

How do you rate Sri Lankan women’s chances?

In Sri Lanka, not many women play cricket although the interest seems to be on the rise. Understandably, the interest is more in Colombo area than in outstations like Galle. The hope is that with this World Cup being here, and if we do well, it will hopefully generate a lot of interest in the women to take up the game.

You were instrumental in getting the stadium ready first in 1998 and you then played a pivotal role in getting the stadium ready post tsunami. How difficult was it?

The tsunami left the stadium in ruins and we had to do a lot of work to get it up and running. Upwards of 500 million rupees was spent to have the stadium renovated. There were obstructions from the archaeological department that the new building construction would block the view of the historical Galle Fort. I am glad that we were able to get past all that. It was the ground where Shane Warne got to 500 wickets and my good friend Murali retired here a hero after getting the last Indian wicket to get to 800 Test wickets. There are many happy memories at this ground.

Being a former Test player, would you have liked to be part of these T20 tournaments across the world? Do you fancy them?

Personally, I am not a great fan of T20 cricket. Test cricket will always be the pinnacle not T20 cricket. Not even one-day cricket. You need skill and endurance to succeed in Test cricket and that is not the case with T20 cricket. Yes, commercially it is great for cricket. But from a personal stand point, not my choice.

When I run through your stats, I see that you regularly bowled 30-odd overs in an innings. Yet we see today’s bowlers, with all the coaching and scientific approach, spending more time recuperating than playing. Why is that?

In my time, fitness had to do with match routine not gym routine. Unfortunately, most of the youngsters are gym-fit and not match-fit. We didn’t know much else to do other than to bowl for long hours. We built ourselves to bowl and last sessions and days. Perhaps today’s bowlers are not that match fit.

Who are the best young players coming out of Sri Lanka that have caught your eye?

I am impressed a lot by Akila Dananjaya. He will be a very good bowler for Sri Lanka. Dinesh Chandimal has the ability to be a very good player for Sri Lanka. I hope he can go far and achieve a lot.

Who were the best players you played against?

Vivian Richards comes to mind first and then Mohammed Azharuddin. Among bowlers, there were many — Kapil Dev, Michael Holding, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram to name a few.

Who was the most difficult batsman you bowled to and why?

Mohammed Azharuddin. He was wristy and aggressive; and was very difficult to set fields to. He had good hands, and could put spinners off their lines and lengths quickly.

The best captain you have played with or against?

Imran Khan was the best and so was Arjuna Ranatunga. I would rate Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara amongst the best captains in the recent times as well.

As a former off-spinner, who do you pick as the best off-spinner in the world currently?

Both Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann have been very good for their teams in the last few years. Both are very fine spinners. I am also very impressed with R Ashwin as he seems to have a lot of variations and seems an intelligent cricketer. With age on his side, and the maturity experience will bring him, he will be a bowler to watch out for in the years to come.

Do you agree with foreign coaches coaching national teams? It seems to be the norm with all international teams these days?

I do not have a problem with local coaches coaching the national team. Sometimes, language can be a barrier for foreign coaches to communicate with the team, especially the young ones. Some teams with good and bright seniors can overcome this. Sometimes, it is seen to be an advantage, as it is seen as not showing favouritism as well. The best man for the job should always coach any team.

Finally, who do you think will win the World T20?

It is a very open tournament. South Africa are a strong team and so are Pakistan. Sri Lanka have the team to win and so do India.

This interview was first published in Island Cricket.