Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup final, Mirpur March 8, 2014

Thirimanne century could prove career-defining

Karthik Krishnaswamy in Mirpur
Sri Lanka's selectors have persisted with Lahiru Thirimanne, and in his 62nd ODI, he underlined his top-order potential again, under the pressure of a chase in a final

When he looks back on his match-winning 101 in the Asia Cup final, the highlights reel in Lahiru Thirimanne's head is unlikely to include the single that took him to 39. The shot Thirimanne played, moreover, was that banal middle-overs staple: the push, with the spin, for a single. That particular single, though, was significant. It nudged Thirimanne's batting average from 29.9761904761905 to 30.

An ODI average of 30 isn't a massive deal, you might think, but it's probably the equivalent of a Test average of 40. In most cases, the difference between averaging 29 and 30 in ODIs - and between 39 and 40 in Tests - is usually the difference between feeling like you still need to prove yourself and feeling secure about your place in the side.

It's slightly different for Sri Lankans, though. Throughout their history as a cricket team, their batsmen have been slow starters in ODIs. It took Sanath Jayasuriya till his 235th match for his average to stabilise itself above 30 - that is, for it to never dip below that mark again.

It took 102 matches for Kumar Sangakkara, 149 for Mahela Jayawardene, 111 for Aravinda de Silva, 155 for Tillakaratne Dilshan and 86 for Arjuna Ranatunga. The quickest of Sri Lanka's top seven ODI run-getters to achieve a stable 30-plus average was Marvan Atapattu, who got there in his 23rd match. He, of course, began his Test career with five ducks in his first six innings.

Sri Lanka's selectors have always given their talented batsmen a long run in the side, believing they have the game and the temperament to eventually come good. Time and again, they've been proved right. Sri Lanka's current set of selectors, chaired by Jayasuriya, have given Thirimanne that sort of run in the side. The Asia Cup final was his 62nd ODI. It was the perfect stage to play what could prove a career-defining innings.

Two things worked in Thirimanne's favour during the first half of his innings. Early on, Pakistan's attentions were mostly fixed on Kusal Perera, who was worrying them no end with his Jayasuriya-esque flicks and jabs, powered by an iron bottom-hand grip. This took some pressure off Thirimanne, and allowed him to remain inconspicuous and play at his own pace.

Saeed Ajmal then came on, bowled a maiden to Kusal, and struck twice in his second over to dismiss Kusal and Sangakkara. His next over, to Mahela Jayawardene, was another maiden. When Misbah-ul-Haq took Ajmal out of the attack, he had bowled four overs, out of which Thirimanne had only faced two balls. The first of those had squirted off his inside-edge for four. Even during the opening game of the tournament, in which Thirimanne had scored a century, Ajmal had been the only Pakistan bowler to trouble him.

None of this, of course, is to knock Thirimanne's achievement. Sri Lanka were under tremendous pressure when they lost their second wicket. They still needed more than 200 to win, and their momentum had stalled to a considerable extent.

Thirimanne began the process of regaining Sri Lanka's momentum in Mohammad Talha's first over. Talha started with a deep backward square leg and a square-ish fine leg. Third ball of the over, Thirimanne bisected them with his pull. Two balls later, when Talha drifted too straight, he sent fine leg running the other way, once again in vain, with a deft flick off his hips.

Those two shots showcased Thirimanne's timing and placement as well as his ability to keep his head about him under pressure and look for scoring opportunities. He has shown those qualities right through the Asia Cup, and given credence to the comparisons that are often drawn between him and Sangakkara. It helps that they share a tall stance and a cover drive on one knee with a full flourish.

All three of Thirimanne's ODI hundreds have come when he's batted in the top three; in those positions, he averages 49.08 in 14 innings. At No. 4 or lower, he averages 22.80 in 33 innings. Like Sangakkara, whose blossoming coincided with a move up the order - he had spent a lot of the early part of his career at No. 6 or 7 - Thirimanne will probably bat up the order in the long term

In this innings, on a slow pitch and against a group of fast bowlers who didn't pitch it up all that often, Thirimanne didn't get to play the cover drive that much. Instead, he exploited the V behind the wicket, and picked up a couple of boundaries with open-faced steers past the wicketkeeper that brought Ranatunga to mind.

After he had moved into the 70s, Thirimanne picked up a cheeky boundary off Umar Gul with one of these late dabs. Next ball, he blocked solidly, back to the bowler. Gul raised his arm, as bowlers often do, as if to throw the ball at the stumps. Thirimanne said something. Gul, moving closer to the batsman, responded with an observation of his own. Thirimanne, like Ranatunga and Sangakkara, didn't seem to mind a bit of chat.

None of this affected Thirimanne's batting. He flowed on, smoothly, content to stay within the confines imposed by the pitch and the lengths Pakistan bowled. It took until he had moved to 81 for someone to give him a wide half-volley, and he pounced on it gleefully.

The next 15 runs took a while coming, as Jayawardene took centre-stage for a while before he and Ashan Priyanjan fell in quick succession. Thirimanne didn't have too much of the strike in all that while. He had been on 85 off 85 balls at the end of the 33rd over. At the start of the 44th, he was on 99 off 105. When he finally flicked Junaid Khan to reach 100, he leaped and punched the air twice, once with helmet on, once with helmet off.

Thirimanne's century was his third in ODIs. All three of them have come when he's batted in the top three; in those positions, he averages 49.08 in 14 innings. At No. 4 or lower, he averages 22.80 in 33 innings.

Like Sangakkara, whose blossoming coincided with a move up the order - he had spent a lot of the early part of his career at No. 6 or 7 - Thirimanne will probably bat up the order in the long term. In the short term, though, with Dilshan set to return from injury, he gives Sri Lanka a bit of a headache. It isn't one they'll mind too much.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shan on March 10, 2014, 14:34 GMT

    It is good to see Sri Lanka found perfectly balanced team with mixture of experienced and young players. The future doesn't seem bad at all when the three seniors retired. Kusal and Lahiru as openers showed Sri Lanka can rely on them when Dilshan goes off. Congratulations for both for their great contribution

    As Kepili_Buster pointed out most cricket fans have concerns over non-inclusion of Upul Tharanga in any of the format. He is one of the most talented and stylish batsman who made great contribution to the country. Santh and him had lots of partnerships and some were record-breaking. I strongly believe Thranga should be in the ODI scod (perhaps test as well) which will be reinforcement to the batting lineup.

  • Kepili on March 10, 2014, 13:34 GMT

    If SL is seriously thinking of next WC, then they should follow the 12's Lorgat Review. Among the Main Recommendations of this review was the suggestion that TEAM SELECTION should be FREE of POLITICAL INFLUENCE. Unfortunately, the SLC board has failed to remove the Sports Minister from the SLECTION PROCESS, as SLC have stated, that they would attempt to do (according to the news items). Incongruous Inclusion of certain players (nowhere near the mark) at the expense of established valuable young players, that any other country would love to have, must be a direct result of this political MENACE! Persisting with undeserved school-tie buddies at wrong places (as in most political matters) would dearly cost SL Cricket in the long run! ICC should pass a resolution to prevent this kind of political involvements, for the sake of the game of CRICKET!

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2014, 8:46 GMT

    During the tournament Mathews posted a batting average of 196 the top batter for the tournament.He also have ODI average of over 37 batting at no 6 and 30% of the time he is not out in his entire carrier. A case to push him up the batting order. May be no 4 on the long term when the big 3 retire or even no 3 as he also has a average pf over 46 in tests with over 19% not outs.

  • Chandana on March 10, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    SL post the big 3 will need some double-acts. Dilshan is a handy bowler in all forms, while Sanga is a capable keeper. Mahela used to bowl seam up in the early days. with Kusal Lahiru and Chandimal being mentioned as the next generation, they need to improve on all-round abilities. Chandimal is not a good keeper yet. Kusal is a club keeper but is a very good out fielder. Lahiru needs to work on his bowling. When Sanath retired, he left a big gap as a genuine bowler, which tilted the balance of the ODI team ( now many are still being tried to fill that gap - Jeevan M, Sachitra S, Ashan P Chathuranga S, Dilruwan P.....) a genuine wicket taking bowler in the top 5 is a must to be competitive and have a balanced team with both batting and bowling options. given the health of Mathews ( he is our shane watson), cannot always guarantee him bowling and he is important as a batter and skipper.

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2014, 23:29 GMT

    @sidh78, Please don't speak bad about this team because they win and you guys don't, Last time Australia-Sri Lanka-India played a triseries in Australia (known for its fast bouncy pitches) Sri Lanka and Australia made it to the best of 3 finals which were very evenly and excitingly contested, India failed to make it through, Sri Lanka made it to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy in England, beating the hosts themselves who are very strong in their own turf and beating Australia as well.India lost the ODI series in the seaming wickets of New Zealand recently, against New Zealand, who recently were the no. 9 ranked ODI side in the world. When India beats Australia on extremely flat pitches the whole world is expected to stop and stare, but when Sri Lanka win in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh where High scores are not always a certainty, they are flat track bullies? A bit of an inconsistency there,. Look, India is a very very good side but don't dull the shine of another team.

  • ESPN on March 9, 2014, 22:23 GMT

    @rakon_me, Out of those 14 matches, SL won 5 matches. Ok then did you check the score cards of those matches... In those 5 matches there are at least 3 or 4 batsmen scored for SL. That is what exactly I said. If you check the scorecards of the Matches won by IND you can clearly see that most of those matches won by either Virat or MSD. That's is what I clearly mentioned in my previous comment. There is no team work in a match won by an particular player....That is exactly what happen to IND and because of that reason team is struggling to find that match winning tempo in the resent past....

  • Kepili on March 9, 2014, 18:20 GMT

    As pointed out in many of my postings since last year, Thirimanne is a naturally talented opening batsman with perfect technique to give a solid start & establish an inning (with a perfect strike rate in ODIs) as well as the ability to stay long in Tests. But, unfortunately he was denied this chance until now & floated all-over down the order, preferring a "privileged" lucky-go-happy SLOGGER to fill the opening slot created by SLC (unjustly axing another established opener Tharanga). Upul Tharanga's feat of reaching 5000 in 157 iings is the 2nd fastest by a SL player in ODIs (Athapattu took 152 innings to achieve that). He is the ninth SL player (64th overall) to complete 5,000 runs or more in ODIs - 5153 (13x100 + 28x50) at an Av. of 34.81 in 164 ODI. Just 29yrs! When Dilshan retires, he is the best SL opener to carry forward to the future with Thirimanne! Chandimal is another talented front-order batsmen who needs a correct spot to bat, but never got! What a waste of talent SLC.???

  • Jury on March 9, 2014, 18:17 GMT

    @Shehan_W - come on man! How do you compare Dinesh Chandimal Vs Ashan Priyanjan? Chandimal has played 80 ODI & Priyanjana has only played 7 matches. Both players are important. But everybody should get equal chances No one should be permanent member of the side specially when they not perform well.

  • sidh on March 9, 2014, 17:47 GMT

    Noticed one thing how the nature of the tracks(pitchs) change the quality of team.SL wins on super flat roads of bangaladesh.but same SL team thrashed by india in CT & tri series in ENG & WI on fast seaming bouncy tracks & SL not win a single series OUt side SL since 2000.really cricket is funny game.

  • Raj on March 9, 2014, 17:45 GMT

    @chanaka...I have to disagree with you mate... Batting average and strike rate of batsmen is directly proportional to the teams success..take for example...thirimanne against India.. He has played 14 ODIs against India and SL just won 5 out of them and lost 9..In all the lost matches, his average and strike rate is very low...India have dominated SL in recent years because all their batsmen have better averages and strike rates...

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