Sri Lanka’s general on the cricket green

Friday, 10 June 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A superb tribute to the courageous Tillakeratne Dilshan from The New York Times. It’s as heroic an innings as one has ever seen, overcoming repeated hits on a sore thumb, as the most prestigious newspaper in the US notes

By Huw Richards

What, if anything, the French World War I Commander Ferdinand Foch would have made of the game of cricket is not known.

But it is known that Foch, a general with a knack for sound bites, was open to new sporting experiences. Taken to the Army-Navy football match on a visit to the United States, he said: “This game has everything. It is war.”

So it is a fair bet that he would have seen Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka’s rookie captain, as a man after his own heart. Foch was the general who once reported at a crucial moment in battle: “My center is giving way, my right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I shall attack.”

It was that principle that underlay Dilshan’s brilliant innings for Sri Lanka against England in the second test match at Lord’s ground, London, which ended this week in a draw.

Dilshan came to the wicket to open Sri Lanka’s innings on the second day of the match under circumstances Foch would certainly have recognized.

His team had collapsed horribly in the previous match at Cardiff, suffering a calamitous defeat on the final afternoon.

It had begun well for Sri Lanka at Lord’s, taking three quick England wickets, but the team failed completely to take the opportunity. By the time England’s lower order batting had finished cheerfully flailing away on the second morning, it faced a total of 486 runs.

Dilshan also had to reckon with the novelty of the tallest group of pace bowlers in cricket history. The combined height of England’s three fast men — Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn — is 19 feet 9 inches, or 6 meters.

They had been chosen for their ability to make the ball rear from a hard surface — unpleasant for any batsman, but particularly if, like Dilshan, you have an injured thumb.  Many cricketers would have opted for watchful defensiveness, cutting out risks and grinding their way out of trouble. Not Dilshan. As his teammate Farveez Maharoof said at the news conference after the game, “He is a pretty positive sort of guy.”

His response was the definitive cricketing counterattack, scoring at close to a run a ball. England’s bowlers bowled poorly, but that did not happen by itself. Bowling, when you know that you have no margin for error and that if the delivery is misdirected by centimeters it will be struck unerringly to the boundary, becomes very tough indeed.

Dilshan was hit again on his thumb when he had scored 55 and spent a long time receiving treatment on the field. He was certainly in pain, but he continued — and in the same manner. Long before the close of play he had secured his place on the honors board with which Lord’s, cricket’s most historic venue, commemorates men who play innings of 100 or more in five-day test matches.

He continued the same way the following day and was finally out, not long after he had been struck again on the thumb, for 193 runs, the highest score by a Sri Lankan at Lord’s. He said later, “I always trust what I’ve got, that’s why I played my natural game.”

A long rain delay halted Sri Lanka’s momentum toward a huge first innings total, and it ended the match batting slowly in its second innings to secure a draw. Dilshan did not bat in the second innings because of his injury, and is likely to miss the final match of the series, starting at Southampton on June 16. He said: “There’s a small fracture there, so we’ll see in 10 to 15 days. I feel I’m going to miss the last test.”

Dilshan never expected to become captain. He is 34, a year older than his immediate predecessor, Kumar Sangakkara, who resigned unexpectedly when the World Cup ended in early April.

Plenty of observers were skeptical that a man previously famed as an innovative stroke-maker — he has the rare distinction of having a shot, an ingenious but dangerous flick over the shoulder known as the “Dilscoop,” named after him — had the more solid qualities generally associated with leadership.

But he has taken the responsibility seriously. He left his lucrative contract to play in the Indian Premier League early so that he could take part in all of the preparations for the tour of England.

He coped calmly with a shattering defeat in his first test in charge and then, at a moment of supreme challenge in the second, produced an innings that everyone in that packed Lord’s crowd will remember not only for the beauty of its strokeplay, but its grace and courage under pressure.

“When the captain is doing well, the whole team feels better,” Maharoof said.

(Courtesy: New York Times)