x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dilshan's all-round show guides Sri Lanka into World Cup quarter-finals

His record-breaking partnership for the first wicket with Upul Tharanga and four wickets steal off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan's thunder as Zimbabwe are beaten by 139 runs.

Upul Tharanga, centre, and Tillakaratne Dilshan embrace during their stand.
Upul Tharanga, centre, and Tillakaratne Dilshan embrace during their stand.

PALLEKELE, Sri Lanka // With the beauty of the mountains in the background and the coconut groves lining the perimeter, Sri Lanka's newest World Cup venue does not need any extra visual aids.

The management at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium have provided one, nonetheless. Just to the side of the main grandstand, a massive billboard carries the image of Tillakaratne Dilshan diving to take a catch, accompanied by the catchline: "Superheroes sans tights".

He was in full possession of those superpowers again yesterday. He even wore a tight-fitting undergarment beneath his blue Sri Lanka shirt. All he needed was a red cape and the image would have been complete.

Dilshan played like he had a point to prove. Given the amount of goodwill floating around Sri Lanka towards their national cricketers, it is surprising how many times the team's management have had to fend off "destabilising" tittle-tattle so far in this World Cup.

Last week in Colombo, a television station besmirched one of the most highly regarded players in cricket, let alone Sri Lanka, when they broadcast a programme suggesting Mahela Jayawardene had underperformed deliberately against Pakistan.

After moving up into the hills for the next leg of the competition, it was Dilshan's turn to be the target of whispers. A rumour had started on the eve of the game that he had failed a dope test. The management were able to laugh it off, by stating he had not even taken a test, let alone failed one.

As with the Jayawardene incident, the dirt is unlikely to stick, but Dilshan will have been angry that it had been allowed to be thrown in the first place.

He certainly batted like he was. Tinashe Panyangara, Zimbabwe's new-ball bowler, was made to pay. With Dilshan windmilling, his first four balls disappeared for 18 runs, and the batsman did not look back from there.

The force was clearly with Dilshan, even when he came on to bowl. In his first over, Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's wicketkeeper, botched a stumping chance with a Kamran Akmal-style clunk of glove on ball. Yet it still rebounded on to the stumps to dismiss Prosper Utseya.

Dilshan was starting to spread the wealth when it came to superpowers.

When he induced an edge from the bat of Greg Lamb in the next over it produced a one-handed diving catch from Jayawardene. The bowler himself, Sri Lanka's most electric fielder, would have been proud.

That put Dilshan on a hat-trick. He did find the edge off the next ball, but by that time Jayawardene at first slip had reverted to Clark Kent mode, and was unable to scoop the catch up from in front of him.

Zimbabwe, for their part, were fresh out of kryptonite. Rarely can a side have ever endured such a lean streak before.

It was not solely that they took the best part of 45 overs to get a wicket. They had not even been given a sniff to keep them interested before then.

Christopher Mpofu had an lbw appeal against Upul Tharanga off the first ball of the game. But between them, Zimbabwe decided it was not close enough to be worth reviewing.

And between then and Tharanga's departure - by which time Sri Lanka were on 282 and the batsman had a century - Zimbabwe only managed a single appeal, and that was a tenuous one for a catch down the legside.

Dilshan's one-man exhibition stole much of the thunder from Muttiah Muralitharan.

The great off-spinner was playing his first and last match at a stadium which he helped come into being, and which is seven kilometres from his family home.

The family biscuit factory was operating with a skeleton staff, as the majority decamped to see Muralitharan play for the final time in the Hill Country before he retires at the end of the World Cup. He left them some forget-me-nots with three wickets, including the final one of the match.

His plans post cricket are not yet decided, but one of his adoring public had an idea of her own. "Murali 4 president" read a hand-scrawled sign in the grandstand.