x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dilshan's debt to his Daredevil inspiration

The dashing opener acknowledges how much he owes to Virender Sehwag - on and off the field as the IPL kicks off today.

Tillakaratne Dilshan is a picture of concentration during IPL action last year.
Tillakaratne Dilshan is a picture of concentration during IPL action last year.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) throws up a myriad of fascinating partnerships. Take, for example, the liaison at the top of the Delhi Daredevils' batting line-up. The opening bowlers from the other seven franchises face the onerous task of bowling to Virender Sehwag, the India opener who has a Twenty20 strike-rate of nearly 159 per 100 balls.

Should they manage to prevent Sehwag from dispatching the ball into the stands for six or crashing it to be boundary for four - no mean feat in itself - and get the buccaneering opener off strike, they are then presented with the challenge of bowling to Tillakaratne Dilshan, the player of the World T20 last year. With Sehwag's aggression and Dilshan's innovation, it is difficult to think of a more explosive and dangerous pair in the IPL, which starts today. Their symbiotic relationship on the field stems from a closeness off the field.

Sehwag, along with the vast majority of the Daredevils, was a guest when Dilshan married Manjula Thilini, a popular television actress, in 2008. "My friendship with Viru has grown stronger since we teamed up for the Daredevils in the inaugural year in 2008," says Dilshan, "Both our families spend time together and this bond is after we became teammates. Our relationship has created a bond of friendship that helped us to complement each other in many ways as a family unit."

Dilshan sees Sehwag as something of a role model and an inspiration, and it is no wonder. Their career paths have been strikingly similar. Both began their career languishing in the middle-order - it took the selectors 37 matches before moving Sehwag to the top of the order - and both found themselves dropped before returning to flourish as swashbuckling openers. The destructive pair are now so highly sought that the Daredevils paid more than US$1million (Dh3.6m) for their services. "The great opportunity offered to partner Viru has given me much confidence," says Dilshan. "I am very fortunate to play in the international level just one year since I moved into the No 1 slot for Sri Lanka, and it comes after my time with Viru at the crease for the Daredevils.

"To establish oneself and render the required support at both ends of the game is an experience, as Viru and I have that perfect blend of understanding. It's not only me, any batsmen with Viru at the crease will feel at ease as he makes them feel batting is easy when he gets going at the other end. Both born in the month of October, Dilshan, 33, and Sehwag, 31, share a telepathy that is highly useful in a run chase or setting a total. Gautam Gambhir is not a bad player to have coming in at No 3.

Dilshan also draws inspiration from another dashing opener. "The experience, the effort which I received as an opener with Sanath Jayasuriya too made me what I am today," he says. "Cricket is a game to pursue with dedication and confidence. The support required from the other batsmen leads you to an understanding which is another element that contributes to success." Dilshan, like many international cricketers, believes that T20 has become the game's most popular format and that the IPL has taken it to a new level.

"The glamour and the massive following of the fans in India make the IPL one of the most popular tournaments," he says. "It is completely different to the other formats and other international matches. The atmosphere of the IPL is awesome. The IPL has changed the audience, and however much you would believe that Test cricket is the real game, it is the T20 format that will remain the most popular and as the crowd-puller.

"And playing in the T20 also needs a lot of skills. As cricketers, one has to be versatile and adapt to all formats of the game." The Daredevils have reached the semi-finals twice and Dilshan is confident it will third time lucky this year. "We have a strong team and have done pretty well in the last two stagings of the tournament. There is no reason why we can't win third time." Dilshan welcomes the arrival of Wayne Parnell, the economical and wicket-taking South Africa left-armer. "He is one of the players I would love to have in my team and I would expect him to emerge as a star of the tournament," predicts Dilshan.

The Dilscoop - the innovative shot where he goes down on one knee and paddles the quick bowlers over the head of the wicketkeeper - has become his signature stroke. It is recognised worldwide and you can expect to see several brave players attempting to replicate it over the next six weeks. With his safe pair of hands and useful off-breaks, Dilshan is just about the perfect cricketer for this shortened format of the game, and he will spearhead Sri Lanka's challenge at the World T20 in the West Indies next month.

"The IPL helped the Sri Lankan players to do pretty well at the [last] World Cup," he says. "It was the IPL experience that took us to the semi-finals, and this year, too, the World T20 is after the IPL, and I am sure it's going to help us." @Email:apassela@thenational.ae Deccan Chargers v Kolkata Knight Riders, 6.30pm on CricOne