What’s up Thirimanne’s sleeves?
There’s been some superb cricket played over the last week in the Inter-Provincial tournament.
In Hambantota, Galle were calling the shots having posted 476 in their first innings thanks to a career best 231 by Roshen Silva. Colombo were under the pump at 171 for six, still needing more than 100 runs to avoid the follow-on. Then came a superb back to the wall hundred by Lahiru Thirimanne. Together with the tail, he put up a brilliant counter attack. Not only did Colombo avoid the follow on, Thiri’s unbeaten 125 helped his side to reduce Galle’s lead below 150.
Thiri continues to dazzle occasionally. There’s the odd spark. One or two eye-catching knocks look effortless, but consistency is lacking.
When Mitchell Johnson broke Kumar Sangakkara’s thumb at the MCG on Boxing Day in 2012, the selectors rushed Thiri to Australia as a replacement. He landed in Sydney 48 hours before the game and made a sparkling 91 against a four-pronged pace attack comprising Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird. But a Test average of 23 after 29 games hardly does justice to his potential.
Thiri’s first tour with the Sri Lankan side was to England in 2011. Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne were also on tour. One has gone onto become Sri Lanka’s Test captain while the other was the country’s most successful Test batsman last year with over 1000 runs. Thiri, the most talented out of the lot, is not even in the team. Mr. Anura Tennekoon was the Manager on that tour. He was absolutely certain that we were seeing the next big thing in Sri Lankan cricket.
Not only Mr. Tennekoon, most of the country’s former captains, whether it be Duleep Mendis, Aravinda de Silva or Kumar Sangakkara, some of the finest brains in the game, were absolutely certain that Thiri possessed nucleus to make it big in international cricket. But they have been proved wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with Thiri’s technique or fitness. He is level headed and carries himself well and ideally should have captained the country before Chandimal. Perhaps the issue is with his temperament. Maybe the passion to fight his way back into the side is lacking.
Test cricketers who are trying to fight their way back into the side have a lot to learn from Hashan Tillakaratne. When sweeping changes were made as Sri Lanka, the defending champions, failed to go beyond the first round in the 1999 World Cup, Hashan was dropped from both forms of the game as the selectors adopted an aggressive youth policy. Roshan Mahanama too was axed along with Hashan and he opted to ‘retire hurt’. Hashan wouldn’t go down without a fight. What followed was two years of First Class cricket where he made heaps of runs and the selectors were under tremendous pressure to recall him. He bounced back in style in 2001, hungrier and fitter. To his credit, he became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred in South Africa.
When the seniors were dropped wholesale after the 1999 World Cup, we were told that they were going to build a young team for the next World Cup in 2003. Ironically, Hashan’s form was so good that the selectors had to eat their words and name him in the World Cup squad. Karmic forces at work maybe.
That’s the kind of attitude that Thirimanne needs to have to find his feet again in international cricket. At the moment, he looks too laid back and like he is waiting for things to happen. There needs a definite attitude change for he is too gifted to finish with a mediocre record.
Perhaps the entire fault is not his. He was made to bat at all positions and once even batted at number seven in a T-20 International. When Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup in 2014, Thirimanne scored a hundred in the final. He was named Player of the Series having opened the batting. Someone needs to explain what they were trying to achieve by getting him to bat at seven in a 20 over game.
When he was dropped from the Test side in 2016, he had lost his confidence and was getting bowled through the gate by Moeen Ali repeatedly.
Last year he was recalled to the ODI side when India were touring the island. On his comeback, Thiri made an 80 and followed it up with another 62. Then on his ODI form, he was not only picked in the Test squad but was made vice-captain as well.
In UAE he looked completely out of sorts in the first Test in Abu Dhabi. With close in fielders, the pressure was on and unable to get off the strike, he was dismissed cheaply trying to hit out against Yasir Shah. The struggles continued in India against high quality spin bowling and eventually he was dropped from the ODI side as well.
Only Thirimanne can help himself. Sri Lanka have done reasonably well in Test cricket despite their recent struggles in the shorter formats of the game. The exploits of Roshen Silva and Dhananjaya de Silva means that all positions in the Test batting line up are taken up. At the moment what is required of Thiri is not just hundreds, but an appetite for those big hundreds.