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February 17, 2012

Sri Lanka cricket

Shattering the Kalu myth

Michael Jeh
Romesh Kaluwitharana on his way to 36*, Sri Lanka v England, Dambulla, November 18, 2003
Romesh Kaluwitharana: the stats don't quite match the legend  © AFP
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Nostalgia can indeed be a seductive mistress, can she not? Watching Sri Lanka dismantling the Australian bowling attack in Sydney tonight, I heard Tony Greig waxing lyrical about the feats of Romesh Kaluwitharana in the 1996 World Cup. Greig's insinuation was that Kalu's breathtaking innings at the top of the order in that tournament were the catalyst for the new style of opening in ODIs. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that Kalu set the world alight and got Sri Lanka off to some amazing starts, but my distant memory forced me to check the facts.

Truth is, Kalu actually had a pretty average World Cup as a batsman. His scores, listed here as runs/balls faced, were: 0/1, 26/16, 33/18, 8/3, 0/1, 6/13.

They certainly weren't slow starts but, apart from the 33 against Kenya, his contributions could hardly be considered significant. It's easy to remember him as that explosive little stick of dynamite but if you actually look at his scores during that season, even leading into the World Cup, the numbers tell a very different story.

It seems the Kalu legend was born in the Benson & Hedges Series in Australia, a few months before that World Cup. He made three half-centuries in that series, but when you actually look at those games his strike-rate was not that high. Not as high as the legend suggests anyway. Here are his runs/balls faced stats: 8/21, 0/4, 8/14, 0/1, 77/75, 20/27, 50/54, 74/68, 13/9, 0/1.

Even the three significant scores he made were virtually at a run-a-ball, a far cry from the sort of strike-rates that we are now accustomed to in the modern game. Admittedly, in that era, the boundaries were long and the cricket bats not that powerful, but I still maintain that the Kaluwitharana myth has grown despite the reality.

Don't get me wrong, I loved watching him bat. I'm not knocking the bloke. My point is that despite the hype and awe that his name evokes, the truth is that he wasn't quite the "excitement machine" that Michael Slater described him as when he was responding to Tony Greig's comments about Kalu. In 102 ODIs, his strike-rate was 77.70 and his average was 22.20.

It's almost the reverse of the point I made about Jacques Kallis in my piece a few weeks ago. Kallis is one of those cricketers whose numbers are phenomenal but he never quite gets the international acclaim. He averages 45.55 at a strike-rate of 72.96 in his long ODI career. Yet we'd never describe him as an excitement machine.

Even Slater himself, fondly remembered as a swashbuckling strokeplayer, had an ODI average of 24.07 with a strike-rate of 60.40. Mark Taylor, stodgy in comparison to Slater, had a strike-rate of 59.46. Wonder why it is that we seem to remember players in different ways, despite the facts suggesting that there wasn't much to separate them really?

Let's think of someone like David Warner, a thrashing machine if ever there was one. He averages 20.07 in ODIs with a strike rate of 78.71. I expected his strike-rate to be much higher than that I must confess. Perhaps the true test will be at the end of his career when he has had time to carve out some consistency; but for a bloke who strikes at 142.00 in Twenty20 internationals, he just can't seem to get close to that in the 50-over format, despite having four more Powerplay overs at his disposal. Curious....

I'd love to hear your contributions to this debate. Can you think of any cricketers who have a reputation that doesn't quite match the cold hard facts? Kalu is certainly one such player; his reputation seems to have been forged on the back of his stunning Test match debut against Australia. I remember Allan Border describing that innings to me; he seemed to suggest that for those few hours that Kalu unleashed his magic the Aussies were wondering if this was the next Don Bradman, such was his amazing strokeplay. What a shame he didn't repeat that again in his short and 'explosive' career. There we go again with adjectives that don't quite fit reality!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Nostalgia, Stats

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Anuja on (May 3, 2012, 6:40 GMT)

He has the ability & power to do wonders. But he wasn't able to do as he may take the supporting role of Jayasuriya.Jayasuriya was rising at that time and Kaluwitharana may think he should given more opportunity to jayasuriya & to capitalise it for winning matches rather than showing colours.Unfortunately he hadn't got much opportunities after the world cup.

Posted by Sudesh on (April 30, 2012, 8:09 GMT)

You missed something. Check the strike rate that kalu reached his 50 runs. I remember he got 50 in 34 balls and slowed down.

Posted by Ravinda Bulathgama on (April 16, 2012, 3:15 GMT)

To add a comment,Tony Grieg certainy described Kalu "a pocket Dynamo",and he kept on calling him "little Kalu". I do believe he saw Kalu as a little David,standing tall at the wicket and bashing the Goliaths. Dashing,he was and on the other side Sanath was doing the same thing with his wrong hand. It was the magic of the underdogs running to slay the mighty Dragon without a care in the world that made the legend. I was in India during 96 world cup, and that time newspapers in calcutta were raving about the pair,and one paper called Sanath "Lanka's Fire Chief".

Posted by Paul on (April 2, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

Michael Jeh,

In light of all the feedback and commentary on your article about Kalu, I think you will need to do another write up on Kalu, but this time, including some of that feedback and the stats you had missed out on. I think really owe it to the 'Kalu' the legend! But before you do pen your next article, watch videos of some of his breathtaking innings – you will see some of the most ferocious, pulls, hooks, cuts and drives you’ve ever seen and most from proper cricketing strokes. Also when you watch those innings, watch how slow and boring the other batsman were in that era 15/20 years ago- that’s when you will realise that your mathematical stats do not tell the truth.

Kalu was any captain’s dream, a great personality, a true team man, who brought a lot of positivity to the team and was willing to sacrifice his wicket to meet the team goals and outside cricket he was just a great man.

KALU a true legend in very aspect

Posted by Sam on (March 22, 2012, 14:48 GMT)

Well, Kalu may have not scored many runs to look back and present on papaer. however, those who watched him playing can remember that it was the conduct and the attitude he showed as an openning batsman made him a legend. some of the strokes he made in the middle might not have made any runs but sure made a big impact on the bolwers mindset. If you love the game you like the players for what kind of memeory they have made. That's beyond the boudaries of countries. I am not a pakistani but it doesn't stop me for remebering Wasim, Imran or Anwer with their grace. We all remeber Sachin facing Mcgrath and standing tall irespective of where we comefrom.

Posted by Mykuh on (March 20, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

I'm a little late to this discussion, but the point I'd like to make is that the Sri Lankan openers were not groundbreaking in 1995 with their approach. They were the 2nd to implement it. There were a couple of batsmen called Latham and Greatbatch who did it in the 1992 world cup. My maths might be wrong, but I'm fairly sure that 1992 is before 1995.

That's the biggest Kalu myth.

Posted by Shehan on (March 19, 2012, 18:48 GMT)

Before Kalu happened, I hated cricket.

After Kalu happened, I love cricket.

'nuff said.

Posted by Gilbert on (March 18, 2012, 16:16 GMT)

Here are some other stats probably not officially recorded but helps make the Kalu legend!

1) Cracking century on debut against a formidable Aussie attack. (The same match where Warne begins his march to be a legend)

2) Three 50 plus scores to turn around Sri Lanka's fortunes in the CB series in 95/96. This was done against the some of the greatest bowlers at the time including Warne, Ambrose and Walsh.

3) Also featured in the one and only dismantling of Glen Mcgrath by any batsman ever!

4) Man of the Series in a fiercely contested Series and no one complained!

5) Subjected to 2 embarrassingly bad umpiring decisions in the finals, the last one in which he beamed a massive smile back at the umpire when he was given out(Legendary on its own right!)

6)Partnered J in the 96 World Cup to scheme the end of ODI careers of 2 of the World' best allrounders at that time, namely Manoj Prabhakar & Phil DeFreitas. Both fastmen ended up bowling offspin(Stuff of Gold!)

Kalu you are a Legend!

Posted by telugu guy on (March 4, 2012, 5:50 GMT)

why people insult guys like Anil Kumble , Rahul dravid & Saurav ganguly simply by saying as if sachin was the only guy who played for India. Myth : sachin scored against high quality bowlers like Glenn mcgrath ........the fact is sachin never scored well ( in Australia , when Mcgrath played his Avg is below 10 ) he never scored a century .In 1999 super six qualifier he got out in first over ....same fate again in 2003 world cup final . he scored only 2 centuries against australia ( when Mcgrath Played) that too in subcontinent . avg is below 40 ( one day internationals).

Posted by Leonard on (February 23, 2012, 14:35 GMT)

Statistics will prove that the Spitfire never would have won the war for Britain.

Statistics will prove that Shawshank Redemption never won an award or made a box office hit.

Statistics will prove that Mr Jeh has over twice the List A batting average of Kumar Sangakara.

What statistics cannot prove is that fifty years from now, Michael Jeh will matter less to the world that the legends left behind by Sanga, Shawshank or the Spitfire.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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