Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2013

Thirimanne shows the future is not bleak


From all the innings, shots, wickets and catches Mahela Jayawardene oversaw as captain of Sri Lanka in 2012, his favourite moment was an instance of exceptional gall from Lahiru Thirimanne. Sri Lanka were five runs short of victory in Pallekele in their first Super Eights match of the World Twenty20, but they only had two balls remaining, with Tim Southee at the bowling crease, delivering one of the spells of the tournament. Thirimanne, fresh from the dugout, had not managed a convincing stroke from either of the balls he had faced, yet on the penultimate delivery of Sri Lanka's innings, he knelt and played a scoop he had never tried before in international cricket, sending Southee's yorker over short fine leg for four, and the stadium into raptures.

"For Lahiru to have the courage to do that and back himself was fantastic," Jayawardene said months later, while reflecting on the year's events. "I think among the young group, he has that mindset to handle those really tough situations." Courage, self-belief, fortitude. They are the same virtues that fashioned Thirimanne's 91 in Sydney, and provided the backbone of Sri Lanka's first innings after the team had shown little of the above with the bat in their last Test.

Not many of the 26,000 at the SCG knew Thirimanne upon his arrival at the crease, and until five days before the match, he had no idea he would be playing a New Year Test either. Yet, when he departed short of the three-figure score he deserved, the stadium rose to give him a warm ovation. They only need to think back to last year's Test to recall knocks that dwarf Thirimanne's 91 in heft, skill and allure, but there was much to enjoy about the steel in his defense and the defiance in his strokes, and they did not withhold their appreciation. Perhaps the crowd had also heard on their earpiece radios by then, that Thirimanne had stepped off a plane only 36 hours before his innings began.

If Thirimanne was not nervous when he arrived at the crease, the lbw shout and referral off his first ball certainly would have put him on edge. "I thought that was out," he said at the end of the day, but he did not allow that rattling introduction detract from focus or technique. He left positively and even early in his innings, his scoring strokes were assured. As he grew more accustomed to the pace of the pitch, he drove the quicks on the front foot with the same comfort with which he dispatched Nathan Lyon through the offside, leaning back. Australia cannot have had long to analyse footage of Thirimanne to deduct a plan of attack, but if there are glaring vulnerabilities in his game, he did well to hide them. Few Sri Lankan batsmen graduate from the domestic system without a major weakness that must be ironed out at the top level.

Thirimanne had replaced Kumar Sangakkara, and the bent-knee cover drive he wielded with increasing command throughout the day bore strong parallels to Sangakkara's signature stroke, only it was less clean. Like Thirimanne, Sangakkara had a limited range of strokes once, but a strong mind and tireless work ethic transformed him into one of the greats of the modern game. It is encouraging that Thirimanne already seems to possess an iron temperament, but he would do well to emulate the hunger and commitment Sangakkara has ridden to acclaim, if he is to make good on the potential his innings made plain.

Before receiving the call from Sri Lanka's selectors, Thirimanne's last match was at the Nondescripts Cricket Club in Colombo, where even the likes of Mitchell Johnson might find getting the ball above chest height a fruitless pursuit. The SCG may be the least daunting Australian venue for Sri Lanka, but the bounce and carry in the pitch on day one is a world removed from the featherbed on which he scratched out a limited overs half-century a week ago, and he has had just one training session to adjust to batting in conditions that have not flattered his teammates in the first two Tests. Uncluttered by the baggage of the Melbourne massacre perhaps, Thirimanne relied on resilience to compensate for unfamiliarity.

"It was a bit difficult to adjust, but it's all about mindset," he said. "You have to adapt to any conditions quickly if you want to play international cricket. Whether we are playing ODIs or Test we have to get our mindset right. I adapted really well today. I am disappointed to have missed a hundred, but I'm happy with my performance."

Just as Rangana Herath has shown Sri Lanka there is life after Muttiah Muralitharan, there are signs from the likes of Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal that Sri Lanka can be hopeful about their batting beyond the careers of the four ageing men who have begun winding down their careers. On day one in Sydney, a 23-year-old propelled Sri Lanka towards respectability with spunk and composure. The visitors may still be placed poorly in the match, with a second-string pace attack now tasked with reining Australia in, but fans at home will take even more pleasure in Thirimanne's innings than the SCG crowd that witnessed it, because suddenly, the future does not look so bleak.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashan on January 5, 2013, 11:24 GMT

    Actually the author should also show how Dimuth Karunaratne too has cemented his spot in the side. No doubt a good knock by him. So hopefully Thirimanne, Karunaratne and Chandimal will be our future batting stars.

  • Prashan on January 4, 2013, 15:42 GMT

    @Chris_P, thanks for your wishes on Pradeep. Yes actually Pradeep has something to boast in the shorter domestic format, but in the longer local format, he averages over 30 and that is a worry. He does get the good ball but normally say once in 2 or 3 overs which is not good. Regarding test cricket, yes West Indies have made some inroads in the shorter formats, but still not enough to impress in tests. Great if you have visited Sri Lanka already and looks like you visited when Australia toured here in 2004. Fact is that we have played our worse test cricket of all against Aussies. Unfortunately T20 cricket should be restricted as it dilutes the reality of cricket. Honestly the way Aussies have improved in test cricket (still 50 50 in other 2 formats) since the Ashes debacle is simply phenomenol. However, too early to talk about Ashes next year. England too are very good.

  • gnanavelu on January 4, 2013, 3:02 GMT

    Those who are abusing sanga must understand that it was him along with mahela who pressed a pause button on sl team becoming another zimbabwe or kenya like team. I feel that the author is carried away by thirimanne's innings. Lets wait and watch how he turns out to be. Too early to pass comments like this dear. Have seen a few lankan players play well in few matches and end up a flop. I don agree with the author that sl future is not bleak.

  • sarath on January 4, 2013, 1:46 GMT

    well said Darshana Dias. Thank u for standing by our home grown Heroes.

  • palitha on January 4, 2013, 0:41 GMT

    I totally agree with Ramesh Darshan Perera. You have said better than I would have. Journalists and commentators, they all have boundaries and parameters set by their employers. I find Andrew and of course Russel doing their best to encourage our young cricketers which we should appreciate and be encouraged.

  • Peter on January 3, 2013, 23:39 GMT

    @Sinhaya. I wish Pradeep all the best, although being a pace bowler on Sri Lankan wickets will test his mettle. I don't read too much into early test stats, bowling on dead pitches tend to balloon your figures out in that manner, they should be much improved after this test. Too bad your seasons coincide with ours, a season with a Sydney or Melbourne grade club would be a good experience for him.

  • Peter on January 3, 2013, 23:31 GMT

    @Sinhaya. Test cricket needs a competitive Sri Lanka, as well as NZ, West Indies et al, but this has to start at grass roots level. I haven't been to Sri Lanka for nearly a decade, there didn't seem to be a lack of facilities or enthusiasm! Having seen Galle, it struck me as the perfect place to develop a pitch with bounce & carry, ideally situated near the sea with right climate. Imagine if they had a quick pitch? The batsmen would be better equipped, bowlers would be standing up everywhere to bowl on it & you would have a perfect pitch to play against sides not so as well equipped to handle it? I really hope this SLPL includes cricket development at grass roots level, that is where your future is, not in encouraging T20 sloggers.

  • Peter on January 3, 2013, 23:25 GMT

    @endianuwagona. Not sure why you are so hard on Sanga? All his opponents respect him highly, the Aussies believe him to be one of the best around, you don't need stats when he is acknowledged by his peers. Look them up yourself, you might get a surprise how good he is!

  • Graham on January 3, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    He batted really well, the scratchy start can be attributed to never experiencing Australian like conditions and he only arrived a few days before the test to acclimatised. Once he hit 30 odd then he really looked the goods.

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2013, 22:20 GMT

    @ranil ranatunga... Sanga may not be a "matchwinner" perhaps he saves his best for when Sri Lanka have their back against the wall and runs out of support. So many occasions we have seen Sanga put up a lone fight against many an opposition only to be left with the tail. Like the 190 odd last time SL toured aussie. Or perhaps you overlook his stats. In tests he averages a staggering 74 in matches Sri Lanka have won. 17 of his 30 100's have come in matches SL have won. Apart from this, he scored 98 against RSA in 2001, and was the last man out. Total 252. 95 Against England out of 250 (Took the score from 88 for 6). 100 not out (batted through the innings) out of 170 against New Zealand. 137 out of 309 against India. Only 4 of his 100s in test cricket have resulted in Sri Lanka losing. So considering all this do you still say he is not a match winner for SL?

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