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As Versatile as Vibrant, Tillekeratne Dilshan

September 6, 2016

Mahinda Wijesinghe, in The Island, 6 September 2016, where the title reads “
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In a recent press release regarding the retirement of TM Dilshan, a mere couple of months shy of his 40th birthday, current Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews said his contributions to the game are “on par with those of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.” Admittedly Dilshan, the right-handed batting all-rounder, has thrilled us all with his exciting stroke-play, scored centuries in all three formats of the game, captained the country, bowled off-spin, kept wickets, played in 330 ODIs, 87 Test matches, 78 T 20 games, ‘manufactured’ his own stroke (the ‘Dilscoop’), and is considered by most unbiased observers of the game as the best fielder Sri Lanka has produced during our Test era – and all of this in a career extending over a period of 17 years.

DILSHAN CATCH

Yet comparisons, at the best of times, can be odious. Valuing or measuring Dilshan’s contributions against that of the two former ‘greats’ is akin to (say) comparing mangoes to apples. Both fruits are decidedly most delectable, but each has its own flavours. Of course, his type of belligerent stroke-play more suited the shortened version of the game, but one cannot forget the 5,000+ Test runs and the 16 hundreds at a respectable average of 40+ he is credited with.

Any captain would love to have Dilshan open the batting especially in the shortened version of the game though, possibly for psychological reasons, he avoids taking the strike. Incidentally, Dilshan’s batting style is somewhat reminiscent (not comparing!) of the flamboyant England batsman Denis Compton (1918–1997) though at a time when limited-overs cricket had not been introduced. More importantly, this was during an era when England batsmen were notoriously conservative in their approach until the likes of Geoff Boycott, Trevor Bailey et al took it to greater lows! So Compton stood out like a beacon in the wilderness with his audacious stroke-play especially his thrilling sweep-stroke which now is fairly commonplace. A stroke not mentioned in any MCC book of coaching and certainly no English coach would dare recommend to his young charges at that time nor would they advice youngsters to learn the ‘Dilscoop’!

Coincidentally, Compton represented England in 78 Test matches, just as Dilshan appeared for Sri Lanka in 78 T20 games.

Statistics do not reveal Dilshan – the real Dilshan. It is as an entertainer par excellence that he is best remembered, much in the manner of his predecessor Sanath Jayasuriya. In the Cricket World Cup 2015 didn’t the right-hander then aged 38 years blast Australian left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson for six successive boundaries in the over, while the left-handed Jayasuriya, similarly aged, did the same to England paceman – and Sri Lanka’s nemesis during the recent England tour – Jimmy Anderson at Asgiriya during the Test match in 2007? However, that does not permit Dilshan to be compared favourably on par with Jayasuriya either.

Let us revert to Shakespeare when Antony described Cleopatra: ‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety’. Simply change ‘her’ to ‘him’ and the picture is complete. However, Dilshan did not have a trouble-free career having had to face a few skirmishes both with authority and even with his contemporaries as he recently indicated. Yet, he dismissed all of this in the next breath philosophically: “One should not look up and spit – all that is past.”

There are a few statistical highlights in Dilshan’s career that need be mentioned.

* In World Cup Cricket, Dilshan and Upul Tharanga hold the highest and the second highest opening batting partnerships, incidentally recorded in the same year (2011): 282 runs vs. Zimbabwe at Pallekelle (Dilshan 144 and Tharanga 133), and an unbeaten partnership of 231 vs. England at Premadasa Stadium whilst beating England by 10 wickets in the quarter finals, Dilshan 108* Tharanga 102*.

* Not a single opening pair in the history of World Cup cricket had – from 1975 – scored over 200 runs in partnership. The Sri Lankan pair did it TWICE in the same year (as above) and within a mere 16 days!

* Introduced his own stroke – the ‘Dilscoop’ – during the ICC 20-20 World Cup 2009.

* Top-scorer in the 2011 World Cup.

* Four World Cup hundreds.

* The fourth Sri Lankan, after Jayasuriya, Sangakkara and Jayawardena to post 10,000 ODI runs.

The list goes on and on, but, as mentioned earlier, statistics do not reveal the real Dilshan. Statistics also cannot compute the quantum of runs saved by Dilshan on the field, while some of the catches he has plucked while flying through the air are nothing short of miraculous. Additionally, the fear he creates in the minds on the opposing batsmen when he is lurking on the field, and at the same time the confidence the bowler has when the latter knows Dilshan the tiger will pounce on anything or everything, cannot be added in the scorebook.

As Dilshan recently made mention: “I never think about my age when I field. I really like it when the ball comes towards me. If all 300 balls came to me, I’d love that. Until a couple of years ago, if the ball is not coming to where I’m fielding, I go to the place that the ball is going and field there – maybe fine leg or third man, or wherever. I really enjoy it.” This could probably be the best advice for any fielder from the maestro.

The loss of Dilshan to Sri Lanka cricket seems immeasurable but the show must go on and Dilshan has shown the correct path for aspiring youngsters – that catches and saving runs win matches.

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