Hat-trick hero Maharoof overcomes the odds
Farveez Maharoof had a tough 18 months, but finally had something to celebrate when he took a hat-trick en route to his second five-wicket haul. After being a regular in the limited-overs squads for several years until early 2008, a rash of injuries and the emergence of Angelo Mathews as a competitor for the allrounder's spot has kept him out of the one-day squad.
After missing international cricket due to side strains, abdominal strains, ankle injuries and groin injuries, he made a comeback in the Asia Cup. He had a rough return in the opening match of the tournament when a rampaging Shahid Afridi smashed him for a couple of sixes in an over, leading to Maharoof's omission from the game against Bangladesh. He was only part of the XI today since it was a dead rubber and Sri Lanka decided to rest two of their first-choice quick bowlers, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara.
Aravinda de Silva, Sri Lanka's new chairman of selectors, had said the side could include two allrounders - Mathews providing more value as a batsman and Maharoof to bolster the bowling. Maharoof was entrusted with the new ball against India, and he hardly enjoyed himself against the openers, Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik, who took him for at least a boundary an over in his opening spell.
Dambulla has been one of Maharoof's favourite grounds - he captured ten wickets in three one-dayers against England towards the end of 2007 - and his fortunes improved during his second spell, where he had Virat Kohli nibbling a catch to Kumar Sangakkara.
The best was yet to come, though. Sri Lanka were looking to capitalise on the run-out of MS Dhoni against the run of play, after he had calmly accumulated 79 runs with Rohit Sharma. Maharoof delivered when it mattered. Ravindra Jadeja's batting credentials took another beating after he missed his first delivery to be lbw. Praveen Kumar managed to get bat on ball the next delivery, but it was only an inside-edge onto the stumps.
India had lost three wickets off consecutive deliveries, and Maharoof was on a hat-trick. Zaheer Khan fished at the next, Sangakkara dived to his right to collect it, and the Dambulla crowd went ballistic. Maharoof did an airplane-run towards point in celebration, and India had tumbled to 189 for 8. Two overs later, a pinpoint yorker to Ashok Dinda completed the five-for on the final delivery of his spell.
"To be honest, for the hat-trick wicket I planned it but the first two I bowled in the good areas and luckily got the wickets," Maharoof said after picking up his Man-of-the-Match award. "I'm really happy. This venue suits my style of bowling, once you hit that back of a length there's something for the bowlers, that's what I rely on a lot, it was one of those days when everything went right."
Despite setting up the comprehensive victory, Maharoof knows there's no guarantee of a place for him in the final. Malinga, Kulasekara and Mathews are definite starters, which means he could be fighting it out for a spot with left-arm fast bowler Chanaka Welegedara or offspinner Suraj Randiv.
"I think Farveez over the last 18 months realised nothing comes easy," his captain Sangakkara said. "For Maharoof to go through such a tough period and come back, go through a tough game first up and perform as he did shows that he has built a lot of character over the last 18 months. Everyday is not going to be a good day but if he can come up with performances that are consistently good, and have one brilliant day like this once every couple of months, we'll be very happy with that and he can be a very important player for us."
Maharoof said that right through the spell of injuries he didn't lose faith in his skills. "I had some very bad injuries, luckily I have been consistently playing cricket," he said. "I have to thank all the people involved who got me here, I always knew I had the ability, there was no doubt about it, it was just about executing it on the day."
As the press conference progressed, most questions were directed to Sangakkara, leaving Maharoof to soak in the replays of his hat-trick on a nearby television. Today's performance may not guarantee him a regular place in the XI, but in a tournament seen as a test lab for the World Cup, it will ensure that his name remains in Sri Lanka's plans for the 2011 tournament.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo