Bullish Fernando vows to make most of opportunity
It's fair to say there's been a hint of underachievement in Dilhara Fernando's career, but from being just another fast bowler he's suddenly been elevated to the role of spearheading his country's bowling attack on their current tour of England following the retirements of Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga from Test cricket.
Fernando's career record doesn't match the effort and determination he puts into every delivery he bowls. He emerged, raw but exciting, a decade ago but is still not guaranteed a regular place in the Sri Lanka Test, one-day or twenty20 international teams. He's played only 35 Tests (90 wickets), 141 ODIs (180 wickets) and 16 T20Is (17 wickets). Now, older, wiser and more controlled, it is to him that Sri Lanka's inexperienced attack will turn to for guidance this summer.
It is a role he relishes, not because he is the senior-most bowler in a five-pronged pace attack, but because it gives him the opportunity to play in a full series - a chance he has been often denied.
"I am extremely happy to be made the spearhead of the fast bowling attack. In the past few years I have not played consistently. If you analyse my matches properly I have played on an average one match per series," Fernando said shortly after bowling his country to a come-from-behind win over England Lions in Derby.
Fernando grabbed three wickets in six balls in the course of an 11-over spell in the second innings. Two notable scalps included Eoin Morgan, the first-innings century-maker who was named in England's squad for the first Test, and Ravi Bopara, another contender for an England place going into the game.
"In the past two to three years I have not played matches continuously. If I play one match today the next match I get to play is in another one-and-a-half to two months. I didn't play a single match in the 2011 World Cup and in the past four months I have not played a single match. In the past 12 months I have played in only seven ODIs and in those matches I have taken 11 wickets.
"I still get to play only a one-off match or if someone is injured or rested. Now that I have got the opportunity I am determined to go all out and prove a point. I don't think I will ever get another opportunity like this to prove myself. I will put 100 percent effort into every delivery I bowl. I don't know what the end result will be but I will give it my best shot."
Fernando is the only fast bowler in the squad experienced in English conditions. He toured England in 2002 and in 2009 played for Worcestershire in the English County Championship.
"I bowled very well in English conditions and wickets. I am hoping to use that experience to the maximum on this tour. I hope the conditions will help the fast bowlers. (Chanaka) Welagedera, (Suranga) Lakmal and (Nuwan) Pradeep have been picked because they have performed well. I am sure they will become better bowlers than me in the future.
"A lot of people have the wrong impression of me. They think that I am an average bowler, uncertain whether I would deliver, if I do I am good, otherwise I am just average. They think that I cannot bowl, that I am not accurate and I am not consistent. I am waiting for an opportunity to disprove them," said Fernando. "I don't know whether that opportunity is the England tour but if not I am determined to wait until the opportunity comes along to prove my critics wrong. Until I do that I will not quit from cricket.
"These wrong opinions of me have surfaced because I have not been given an opportunity to play consistently. If I had done so it would have been a different story. My main focus on the England tour is to dispel the doubts that critics have against my bowling. I want to change their opinion about me and finish my career on a high note," he said.
Until 2008 Fernando's career had been plagued by injuries, which also contributed to his perceived inconsistency. He recovered from two stress fracture injuries to his back only to injure his ankle - which required surgery in 2008. "I took some time to recover from the injury. I felt pain when I bowled but now the pain has decreased and almost disappeared and I am fit and back to normal. I am capable of bowling at around 145 to 150 kph now."
Another major problem that Fernando has overcome is bowling no-balls, for which he is grateful to former fast bowling coach Anusha Samaranayake. "I am indebted to Anusha Samaranayake for helping me eradicate that frustrating problem," he said. "He worked a lot on my bowling, trying to reduce the number of no-balls that I was bowling. If you analyse my bowling now there is a considerable improvement on the no-balls I bowl.
"There have been many occasions when I had got annoyed with myself for bowling a no-ball especially if it has been a wicket-taking ball. I am angry with myself for putting so much effort into my bowling to get a wicket and eventually to see it being ruled as a no- ball. There have been several instances like that in all forms of cricket."
The fact that he has been dubbed 'No-ball Fernando' by some of his critics does not bother him. "I am strong enough to absorb such remarks cast at me as long as it not against my family."
Voicing his opinion on the upcoming three-Test series against England, Fernando said that he had prepared for it quite assiduously. "I have watched videos of England batsmen while I was in India for the IPL [for Mumbai Indians] and learnt a lot of their weak points from Indian cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar.
"We have selected the best available team and everything depends on how well we perform. The only thing you can guarantee is your ability and effort that you put in," he said. "If we can do it consistently we can obtain results in our favour. A lot of people have told me that I have not lived up to my potential, that is a motivation to spur me on."