x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dilshan continues to push all the boundaries

Tillakaratne is a man who knows a thing or two about match-winning performances and the new vice captain is relishing the responsibility.

The Sri Lanka batsman smashed 96 from 57 balls against West Indies last year to take the accolade for ICC Best Twenty20 Batsman of the Year and has, through the years, made a habit of turning his team's fortunes around when all seemed lost. And in India he sees a squad of players who have the ability to become the world's best in all three formats of the game due to the fact they have not one, but almost a full team of stars capable of world-class stints with both bat and ball.

Dilshan is currently licking his wounds after Sri Lanka were beaten 3-1 by India in a one-day series after also going down in the Test series. However, he admits to not being too upset as he was up against a side who may well go on to become one of the greats. "The atmosphere there is electrifying because of the crowds and the media frenzy they create," said Dilshan. "We must not forget the fact that they are now the best Test team and have strong claims to become the best in all three formats. It is only really them and Australia who can do that.

"So, in that context, there is no need to get too disappointed in losing both, the Tests and ODI series. Some of our fans may not agree but we did reasonably well. And except for Australia, there hasn't been any team that had beaten them on their own soil for a long, long time. "We gave them a good run despite the injuries to some of our key players. We could have won the T20s and could have gone closer in the one-dayers had we won the decisive fourth match."

Dilshan pointed to India's sublime batting line-up as the main reason for their dominance. "Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, in the deciding T20, and Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, in the fourth one-dayer, produced stand-out knocks to take those games away from us," he said. "They are all great players and they delivered when it mattered." The final one-day game in Rajkot, New Delhi, was abandoned because of a dangerous pitch and Dilshan felt it was the correct call as continuing would have meant risking the safety of the players.

"We played far longer than we should have because we thought the pitch condition would improve. It didn't so we decided to call if off. "The ball was rearing up at various bounce and speed from the same length and all our batsmen, including me, were hit badly. "We were lucky that no one suffered any major injuries." Despite the defeats, Dilshan can hold his head up high after some great innings on the tour in all formats of the game, with two Test centuries and the statistics showing he topped the batting in the one-dayers.

It is this recent form that has made him an automatic choice in all three formats of the team and, with it, have come more responsibilities. He has been appointed deputy to captain Kumar Sangakkara for the tour of Bangladesh which will involve a tri-nation series with the hosts and India. It a role he relishes after being handed it on the tour of India after the injury to Muthiah Muralitharan. "It's not something that I was craving but I take it as an honour and it shows the faith the selectors are showing in me. With several of the senior players left out because of injuries, this tour provides an opportunity to blood more youngsters."

Dilshan is seen as one of the sport's premier utility players: a prolific batsman who can bowl, keep wicket and field brilliantly. It is this versatility that has made him so important to his country's cricket fortunes. He has even had his name attached to a shot - the "Dilscoop" - which was an innovation in the sport with others going on to copy it when they are feeling particularly confident. In essence, it is a paddle sweep played over the wicketkeeper but once played in a game every commentator calls it the "Dilscoop".

It was in the Twenty20 World Cup in England and the last Indian Premier League (IPL) that Dilshan took his game up a gear and led to him opening for Sri Lanka. His approach as a fast-scoring batsman, who takes risks, has been accepted and appreciated by the selectors and if he hits a rich vein of form it is possible he can take them to glory in the 50-over World Cup in 2011. Having tried his hand at football in his early years he decided that cricket was the game he truly had the passion for and it was then that his ability to handle pressure situations was first noticed.

Ranjan Paranavithana has been his coach since he was a student at Kalutara Maha Vidyalaya and is his manager now. He still reminisces about Dilshan's contribution to a school match with St Anne's Kurunegala when he was just 14. "Dilshan was selected as replacement to the injured wicketkeeper," Paranavithana said. "He came in as the last man, and he walked in when the score was 392 for nine and with the second new ball he hooked the first delivery he faced and cut the next to make two fours and the score turned 400.

"He had this attacking instinct even at that time. That was at the start of his career, and later he moved up the batting order at school and club, but, unfortunately for him, Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu had established themselves as the openers for Sri Lanka. "Batting down the order didn't suit his attacking style of play. Now that he has got the opportunity, he is performing. He's a player who enjoys doing everything and has excelled in all - whether batting, bowling, fielding or keeping wicket."

As an opener he passed 1,000 runs in the premier division and was first selected to play in the Sri Lanka 'A' team with New Zealand where he scored a century. This prompted the national selectors to call him up for the tour of Zimbabwe in 1999. Dilshan had to play as a middle- order batsman in the Sri Lanka team for a long time and was dropped twice. He made a comeback as an opening batsman for the team at age 32 after some outstanding scores for his club, Bloomfield.

"Batting at the top gives me the opportunity to play rather freely," said Dilshan. "It suits my style of play. And my approach to the game has remained the same whether I played in Test, ODI or T20. A slight change in attitude was all I made when playing the longer version of the game from the shorter one." @Email:apassela@thenational.ae