Sri Lanka v New Zealand, Compaq Cup, Colombo September 8, 2009

Samaraweera shows off his one-day skills

He chose a crucial time to score his maiden ODI century, and did so in a manner that confirmed he has turned a corner in his stop-start career

The Dialog pop-up question on my cellphone flashed the umpteenth market-driven gimmick of the day: "What is the term used for a batsman capable of batting for a long duration throughout the innings?" I'm pretty sure the answer isn't Thilan Samaraweera. Not just yet, at least.

Sri Lanka's victory would not have been possible without Samaraweera. He was the difference between a meek surrender and a crushing win. Like India have done with Rahul Dravid, Sri Lanka recalled Samaraweera into the side to smooth over the cracks. The message was not getting through to Chamara Kapugedera, so out he went and in came Samaraweera. It was a decision taken to bolster the batting and take the pressure off Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. It worked, and how.

Nearly 11 years after his one-day debut, Samaraweera chose a crucial time to score his maiden century in the form, and did so with a temperament and class that confirmed he has turned a corner in his stop-start career. Ultimately, this one selection decision saved Sri Lanka the blushes.

At 69 for 5 in 26.3 overs, you would have thought Samaraweera would consolidate. Instead, he counter-attacked brilliantly, to a degree aided by the bowlers, who tried too hard to knock the batsmen over.

There was no panic and there were plenty of spectacular shots, especially towards the end of his 127-run partnership with Angelo Mathews. He and Mathews - whose innings Samaraweera termed as "brilliant" - backed their ability to match New Zealand's bowlers and counteract Daniel Vettori with some classical batting.

What was most admirable about Samaraweera's innings was his placement and rotation of the strike. He has never been a big hitter of the cricket ball and cannot savage attacks like Dilshan or Sanath Jayasuriya, but by nimble dabs and touches he was able to keep his own score ticking as well as give Mathews plenty of strike.

Some of the purest shots of the day came between overs 24 and 30, against Vettori and Shane Bond, when Samaraweera casually turned the ball across his pads at the very last second, and got over the bounce to dab singles in front of the fielders. With utmost care, either dropping the ball at his feet or deflecting it wide of point's hands, Samaraweera negated New Zealand's best pair. Vettori was forced to take Bond off after a two-over spell. Such skillful single-pinching can be like a torrent of boundaries for bowlers.

It was an inspiring blend of the format Samaraweera has dominated and the one he wishes to dominate. He needed to show Test-match grit from the depths of 38 for 4 in 16 overs. He began steadily - his first 20 runs came off 41 balls. He brought up his half-century off 78 balls and then stepped on the gas, scoring his next fifty in 43 balls.

An increased strike-rate in Tests has helped his one-day batting and it's clear his mindset is positive. When the bowlers sagged even a bit, he found the boundaries; when they tidied up, he found the gaps. A century off 122 deliveries, that too after the top order wilts, is special.

"I thought my ODI career was over but I believed in myself," Samaraweera said. "We have been struggling in the middle order and I've had a dream run in Test cricket over the last 18 months. This is the first time I've got a decent run [in ODIs]; normally I get one game and then I'm sitting out. I'm under pressure because a lot of people have said I can't play one-cricket. The management has told me to bat like I did in the recent Tests if I get 40 -45 overs. Once I crossed 50, I felt I could play some shots and I did."

Coming into this game, Samaraweera's record in a one-day career spanning 11 years and 21 matches showed an average of 16.60, with a highest of 38 not out. It was indicative of his previous avatar, one in which he was judged on the basis of a stonewalling and inconsistent Test approach. Improved shot selection has resulted in his Test successes this summer, and it helped him today as well. Bowlers have found out they need to earn Samaraweera's wicket now, and it is proving to be rather a tough task.

In the end, Sri Lanka's win over New Zealand was a surprisingly resonant one, considering that it was difficult, at about the halfway mark of their innings, to foresee them crossing 170. Samaraweera's century found its reward in a comprehensive victory.

Maybe in time to come people will text the name Samaraweera and hit the jackpot.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chathura on September 11, 2009, 5:52 GMT

    I also don't beleive that sanath should go down the order. But Mahela should have a rest for at least one series. Samaraweera is not always suitable for no.3, but for some games. If you want a long handle, no doubt he is the man. But if Sanath and/or Dilshan dominated, Sanga should come at no. 3. Maharoof is very unfortunate to miss out. But when Mathews playing wonderfully well and Malinga, Kulasekara and Thushara bowling extra ordinarily, there is no other option for Maharoof. At the moment most of our top order batsmen having bad run. Mahela is the worst case averaging around 20 in this year. Only Dilshan & Kumar is ok. I believe the greate Sanath will come back within this series.

    Good luck: Sanath, Sanga, Mahela and all the team members. We need a series win.!

  • Sachindra on September 10, 2009, 12:30 GMT

    Thilan and Angelo who possess 1st Class Batting averages of 52 and 55 runs respectively are better equipped to survive the full 50 overs. They should be sent up in the batting order in place of the inconsistent players who have failed miserably even against the Zimbabwian & Bangladeshi bowling & currently occupied those most important batting positions, if we want to go to the top of the ODI rankings. Teenagers who perform exceptionally well in all local tournaments have to be considered in place of these aging & underperforming players, like the way they do in our neighboring countries. The teen age is the best age to introduce a quality player to the National side. To identifying a classy player one needs some intelligence, however very ordinary players have been selected to the National sides in the recent past.

  • chandana on September 10, 2009, 10:12 GMT

    Partha25 :- there are 6 years in between 2003 and 2009!!! hence Sana at 40 is not the Sana at 34 !! with age comes natural deterioration of reflexes, eye sight and mental alertness. Dont confuse this with fitness; Sana boy is among the top 7 fittest in the squad. It is just that his judgment of length and pace seems to have diminished and the feet dont seem to move as quickly as they did before. Watch carefully next time he bats; Sana now bats deep in the crease, in order to get that millisecond of extra time specially against good pacies (gul, bond). if he is to bat down the order it may give him more time to play slower bowling. It was evident he was late on the pull during Paki tour and now against NZ. Once again my batting order Dilly, Udawatte, Sam, Kumar, Mahela, Sana, Angelo, Murali, Thushara, Malinga & Mendis. BTW noyza in back to some real good form. pity the selectors keep ignoring him. bet he can play godd T20 and 50 over cricket still. Cheers :)

  • Partha on September 10, 2009, 8:19 GMT

    I never like Sanath coming down the order. I found some suggestions about sanath coming down the order. But over the years i saw sanath dont feel comfortable down the order. Remenber south africa tour just before the 2003 world cup when experiment was made sending sanath down the order but it didn't work. More importantly he wasn't comfortable at all. To discard sanath will be a blunder of a mistake. Selector shouldnt even think of discarding sanath. He should ex only if he thinks its over. I dont think he is thinking like that at the moment. We all know he can come back at any time and there is no better match winner than sanath in that srilankan side. About batting order slight adjustment can be made like samaraweera at three,sanga at four and jayawardne at five. Jayawardne at five for two reasons. one,he is the best when it comes to playing spin,he can use his feet and more importantly he can score very quickly when required. He has every shorts in the book and even out side book.

  • Sachindra on September 10, 2009, 7:56 GMT

    Thilans skills has been wasted as youngster. Originally he was selected as a ODI bowler (replacement for Murali)& sent to bat below No 7th position, though he has had won the Best Schoolboy Cricketer of the year award and the Best Schoolboy Batsman of the year award twice in successive years (1995&1996). Angelo' s too have had a brilliant school career having being adjudged as the 2nd Best Schoolboy batsman of the year award in 2007.( Nilusan Nonis who actually won the Best Schoolboy Batsman's award of that year is another player who can easily walk in to the National Side) Currently Angelo leads the 1st Class Batting Averages of the all time batting list of Sri Lanka. If Thilan & Angelo had been sent to bat at No 3 & No 4 of our ODI batting line-up, we would have been at the top of the ODI rankings by now. Actually both these 2 players have not been selected, but they have forced their way into the team with their consistent performances.

  • Randika on September 10, 2009, 7:35 GMT

    Sheer joy to wath Sam come off with flying colors. What a way to reply to that article in Cricinfo earlier questioning his credentials. Bravo young man! This was the best move the sri lankan middle order has seen for some time now. Properly utilised this resurgence could induce much needed confidence in the likes of Kapugedara and others to consolidate the middle and lower middle over for Sri Lanka. Thilan is best cutout to be the next Russel Arnold battling and resisting with the tail, inspirational stuff

  • chandana on September 10, 2009, 5:02 GMT

    Well JontyK if u have watched the last 5 onedayers, our best batters have gone back by the 30th over!! I seriously think Sana has an eye problem (hathalis andiriya) as he is late on the short ball more often than not. Cant think of him timing a shot this year including the IPL unlike last year when he had a blast. Hence he bats at 6. As for Mahela and Sanga batting bulk of the innings, happened only once in the last 10 matches. At least with Sam we know he can hold one end while others come and go. If Kumar does not keep as u suggest then he has to open. I have said this b4 - he scored 150 in the A team opening in a 50 over match. Cant talk of captaincy burden when two of the best around open Smith and Stauss in all forms of the game. If a keeper shud come in then it has to be PJ the best in the world right now. Kaushal i think is a little too short for the one day game (bowlers can easily short pitch him) and Chandimal is still a novice at keeping. cheers :) Chandana U

  • Damith on September 10, 2009, 3:31 GMT

    What I have enjoyed most last season of cricket is batting of Sangakkara & Samaraweera in Tests. Now here we are Samaraweera doing it in ODIs. Remarkable knock. We'll never forget this supreme knock. Further support that given by the youngster Mathews was exceptional. Lessons for the other Batsmen, cricket is not all about aggression. I do agree with the term of Sanath have to put down the batting order. It allows two main advantages. 1. We do not have the batting power at the end. But Sanath can. 2. New rules for power-play. He can play his natural game.

  • Bhanu on September 10, 2009, 2:39 GMT

    Real fine answer to all the critics of Samaraweera. There were articles qustioning whther Thilan's is such a good batsman to have an average of 50. Stats are not prepared by him. There were so many comparing him with the likes of Aravinda and trying to degrade him. What every one needs to realise is Aravida is may be a mad max and a batting genius who never achieved his full potential. If Aravinda was there on that day he may not have had the patience to build that 100. Thilan is a completely different character, he is most probably the batsman with most guts and mental strength. Give the man the credit that is due. Dont take one area of failure and lash out at some one in public when the man is doing his level best for the team and the country.

  • Mark on September 9, 2009, 20:36 GMT

    Well Done Samaraweera. Keep it up! Here's wishing Thilan Samaraweera many many years yet of cricketng success and accolades. When he fires Sri Lanka's limited overs middle order looks really good. Go Samaraweera and Go Sri Lanka!

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