India v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, semi-final, Cardiff

Kulasekara - the man who stole a nation's heart

Nuwan Kulasekara is the not the most gifted cricketer, but it is on consistent performers like him that the Sri Lankan team's success is built

Andrew Fidel Fernando

June 19, 2013

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Nuwan Kulasekera celebrates a wicket, Australia v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group A, The Oval, June 17, 2013
Almost ten years after his ODI debut, Nuwan Kulasekara still approaches the game with the same wonder a million Sri Lankan kids might feel when they play for their country in their imagination © Associated Press
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Players/Officials: Nuwan Kulasekara
Series/Tournaments: ICC Champions Trophy
Teams: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka fans may not often feel they are the most fortunate cricket lovers in the world, but in some ways they have it good. The team is some way from being the best, but it is rarely unsatisfactory, at least in limited-overs cricket. The administration can be a shambles but despite the poor domestic structure, genuine talent still finds its way to the top level. Best of all their players are more accessible than most and a pleasant bunch in general.

In a team that features Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, though, the best-loved cricketer in Sri Lanka at the minute is not quite so big a star. In the past eighteen months, there has been a resurgence in Nuwan Kulasekara's game, and in two matches in the Champions Trophy, he has shown the world how he stole a nation's hearts.

Kulasekara has been a regular in Sri Lanka's ODI team for the past five years, but he was dropped for the first match against New Zealand, largely because of his poor form in the warm-up matches. He did not commend his selection with the ball against England, but although not many would have suspected his batting prowess, he played one of the finest pinch-hitting innings in recent years to seal Sri Lanka's victory. Confidence clearly buoyed, he was then Sri Lanka's most effective weapon in the field against Australia, not only taking three big wickets for 42, but also dismissing a ponderous George Bailey with a brilliant direct hit from short fine-leg. As Sri Lanka prepare for a semi-final under dark skies, Kulasekara's swing might again be key to reining in India's powerful batsmen.

It is not difficult to see Kulasekara as a cult hero, simply because his cricket is so likeable. Fans see a little of themselves in Kulasekara. Rarely hitting 130kph, he is not the most gifted player in the world, someone you might have played with on the street, or at a nearby ground.

Until he was 17, Kulasekara's cricket consisted of running in rhythmically with a tennis ball and pitching it consistently on the spot, under the coconut trees in the village of Ranpokunagama. There are probably still men there who cannot quite believe their friend bowled Michael Clarke with a delivery that hooped about a metre at the Gabba this year, because they have never seen him move a cricket ball. It wasn't until Kulasekara moved to a school with a competitive cricket team that he realised he had a gift for inswing. 

"I guess I knew I was quite good when I was playing with friends, but I never thought I would be able to take my cricket this far," he said in February. "At first, I thought playing cricket might help me to get a good job. What's happened since then is beyond a dream."

When Kulasekara is hit for four, he responds no differently to how he might have done all those years ago. There is a hint of a smile, on occasion, but then a swift swivel on his toes and a subdued trek back to his mark. He can sometimes get batsmen to duck - maybe often in surprise that he is even attempting to bounce them - but there is never the volley of words that usually follows from the bowler. Showing verbal aggression does not make sense to Kulasekara. He is there to take wickets and keep the runs down, and every ounce of his effort is directed at those pursuits. Class and results under pressure are nice, but there is no better way to endear yourself to the Sri Lankan public than through humility and good nature. Kulasekara is the kind of cricketer people hope they would be.

At first, I thought playing cricket might help me to get a good job. What's happened since then is beyond a dream Nuwan Kulasekara

There is perhaps more ecstasy in his celebration now, because the stakes are so much higher. His old friends might find his success hard to fathom, but when Kulasekara sprints towards fine leg grinning and leaping, it seems as if he doesn't quite believe what he has just achieved either. It is difficult not to share his joy. Almost ten years after his ODI debut, he still approaches the game with the same wonder a million Sri Lankan kids might feel when they play for their country in their imagination.

If the Cardiff weather allows it, Sri Lanka will embark on their sixth semi-final in global events in as many years on Thursday. Their consistency in big tournaments has been in part due to their versatility, which allows them to overcome the diverse challenges in a short period, but it has also been because lesser lights like Kulasekara have repeatedly chipped in, in big moments, to drive the side forward.

"I've seen a big difference in our team in this tournament," captain Angelo Mathews said. "Everyone wants to contribute with bat and ball, or if not they'll come and contribute with their thoughts. As a captain you need that because a small idea can change a game, can win a game. Seniors, juniors, whoever plays, all the reserves, all the support staff - they all contribute because we are trying to achieve one goal in this tournament."

Kulasekara only has one five-wicket haul to his name in 183 internationals. Lasith Malinga, Sangakkara and Jayawardene have been the protagonists in Sri Lanka's campaign so far, but nothing will quite warm the heart like another big haul, or furious cameo to the man they call 'Kule'.

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

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Posted by Unnayan on (June 20, 2013, 13:33 GMT)

The only thing that comes to my mind every time Kulasekara topic comes is Dhoni hitting him for the final massive six in the 2011 WC final... He is a toothless fast bowler and nothing more

Posted by LALITHKURUWITA on (June 20, 2013, 11:51 GMT)

Everybody forgot to mention that Kule was world No 1 bowler in ODI in ICC Ranking.

Posted by Narayan.Shastri on (June 20, 2013, 10:46 GMT)

Sri Lanka should nurture Kule into a good fast-bowling allrounder. Presently they have Mathews and Perera. And who can forget his throw from fine leg to run out Bailey in a match a few days ago?

Posted by randikaayya on (June 20, 2013, 10:41 GMT)

@Rohini Tharmakulasingham: You are so right, that my eyes water just reading your comment ma'am, well spoken

Posted by pulkit10 on (June 20, 2013, 9:27 GMT)

I think his strength was obvious when he kept Sachin Tendulkar guessing for 2 overs and ended up bowling him through the gates. The article mentions that he isn't as "gifted" as some other fast bowlers but I beg to differ...even for a medium pacer, it is a real gift to have both your line and length perfect and Kulusekra does that job well. His line/length is impeccable and he swings it very well - it is just disciplined bowling with a little bit of mystery added to it and it has served him well. Being that disciplined too is a gift as you'd learn from Vernon Philander's exploits.

The problem with Sri Lanka is there are too many medium pacers around and they shuffle each other way too much. Matthews and Perera are decent back ups but they're no front line bowlers and that's where the entire unit comes up a cropper because they have no one to hold up the other end. Some bite in the pace to complement Kulu and they'll have a terrific bowling attack.

Posted by chapathishot on (June 20, 2013, 9:09 GMT)

Kule is a very nice guy without any fuss and does his job but never gets the acknowledgement.Even in WC 2011 he played a very good innings but when it comes to a choice of himself and some other player they always drop him.Hope he fails today as an Indian Fan and If SL wins hope he succeeds against Poms

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 9:02 GMT)

A Very Well written article Mr. Fernando. I am a BIG fan of 'Kule' because of the way he plays the game. He is one player that you canbe sure of to give a 100% in every single match. An example for all. Malinga is also talented but does NOT have the humility of 'Kule' No wonder "Kule' the man who stole a nations heart. An asset to any team. I wish him all the very best.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 6:36 GMT)

At the age of 19, Nuwan Kulasekera was selected to the Sri Lanka Cricket Academy where he blossomed into a young medium pace swing bowler. The bank we worked for was invited to lecture on career guidance at the SLC Academy and we offered Nuwan and a few others careers as during those early stages they felt quite insecure playing cricket alone. Nuwan, was so humble that before every tournament he used to meet those responsible for his recruitment to get wishes and blessings. After many years and much success in his career he still remains the very same person that we first met as a 19 year old. With best wishes to Nuwan and the entire Sri Lanka team.

Posted by Lasom on (June 20, 2013, 6:31 GMT)

Kule, NO dropping dollies this time , like you did against India (2011) & WI (2012)

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 5:36 GMT)

in addition to that kulasekara has very big heart. He is absolute team player. in England, sri lanka encounter, when sangakkara fell over the middle of the pitch, kulasekara instinctively ran through the sanggakkara's end to save his wicket. he was the same humble guy when he topped NO 1 odi bowler in ICC rankings. as sri Lankans we proud to have gentlemen like kulasekara in our team. it is very rare thing in world cricket in now days.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 5:04 GMT)

Nuwan Kulasekera resembles the Sri Lankan cultural mix.I wish he could do his part in this more important semi-final match.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 3:50 GMT)

Kule is the product of typical sri Lankan structure.Not only in cricket but in many fields great achievers have exceptional heights.Problem is the achivements were not properly showcased.Humility is the Sri Lankan way it stems from the childhood dhamma education called Daham pasala.Let thlousands kules blossom from the srilankan way.

Posted by Subodha_Charles on (June 20, 2013, 3:32 GMT)

Thank you for the article Mr. Andrew Fidel Fernando. True that he may not be considered as a superstar of Sanga or Mahela's calibre by most of the people. But he keeps delivering for SL. Hope he continues to do the same for many years to come. : it would be nice if you can post that comment in the match preview or somewhere relating to today's match without ruining the spirit of this article.

Posted by Woodinville20 on (June 20, 2013, 3:21 GMT)

Malinga and Kula are both world-class bowlers and they'll perform like it tomorrow.

Posted by ARad on (June 20, 2013, 2:40 GMT)

I am glad to see this article. Fairly innocuous catches in key matches at key times appears to be Kulasekara's kryptonite. Otherwise, he is the most ignored player to ever top the bowling or batting rankings. He has not been treated well by the selectors either over the years. Latest example: he was missing from the team sheet for the only game SL lost so far in the tournament.

Posted by malavi on (June 20, 2013, 2:28 GMT)

@Nisha, I believe you have completely misunderstood the article. It's not about comparing cricketers. It's about celebrating a humble, good natured cricketer like Kulasekera who may not seem really talented, but more often than not performs well and does his job for the country. I think people see him and are inspired by what hard work and good attitude can do to achieve success.

Posted by Christonaveen on (June 20, 2013, 1:48 GMT)

cricket is a simple game. run bowl thats all thats cricket. enjoy

Posted by nix_moviefreak on (June 19, 2013, 21:18 GMT)

Not only Kula but I guess all current SL bowlers hardly show aggression on the field and still manage to reach knockout stage of almost all big tournaments. Best Wishes to both the teams.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

its jut a fun to hear a normal player to be over admired.just look at his record not to be considered as brilliant.what about malinga he has done better than kula....

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:54 GMT)

yeah but his two drop catches cost us two world cup finals -_-

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:49 GMT)

Andrew Fidel Fernando, Sir you just nailed down one of the greatest articles iv ever read. Simple in terms, humble in views, this article to me is the best a person has ever described about 'Kule' the person of a million smiles.

Posted by Khali_Singh on (June 19, 2013, 19:31 GMT)

Lets admit one thing it is a nice article. However, i have follow cricket for a while and in March 2009 he was the no.1 ranked bowler in ODI and have always been a good bowler for S Lanka. He has been there opening bowler in the Vass era, their death bowler in the Malinga era, their go to bowler in the Murli era and he continues to do well. Wishes him all the best for the future and hope he can break a few more stumps like he did against Pakistan, A.Ali bowl for 94.

Posted by on (June 19, 2013, 19:26 GMT)

Road to SFfor SL and India SL defeated : 1) NZ by 1 wkt and managed to score a dismal 138. 2) Eng ...managed to chase 295 courtesy of a fluke 50 by Kula...not going to happen again for next 20 matches at least. 3) Aus - defeated them but only because Aussies went for target in 29 overs. Despite that Aus almost pulled it off but lost by 20 run margin. Compare this to the worst win India had and that was defeating SA by Margin of 30+ runs. So India's worst win was still better than SL's best win. India's other two wins by huge margins as well

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:21 GMT)

Malinga Magic Team India can tackle What about Kula the destroyer of Aussies. He won the match by taking three crucial wickets and a direct hit to remove Bailey. In fact he bowled very well in the match It is because of him SL won the match and a place in the Semi finals. Do not underrate any If Malinga can not do that Kula and Senanyake will do It is going to be a wonderful match Weather permitting Best of Luck to both the teams. I am from india If the match is reduced to 20+ overs then I am sure SL will have an Upper hand In IPL Senanayake played a big part whenever he was offered a chance Kashinath

Posted by sundeepfan on (June 19, 2013, 19:06 GMT)

He is one of the more conventional Sril lankan bowlers, has excellent in-swing and out-swing with spot-on accuracy. Does not resort to theatrics like sledging, staring, just smooth dangerous bowling, he will be the man between the Indian Top order and the Semis spot.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:01 GMT)

Wonderful article! Cricketers like Kulasekara are hard to find. Such a positive attitude and 100% effort every time he comes on to the field despite being not the most gifted cricketer in world cricket or in Sri Lanka. I have seen far lesser cricketers full of themselves in the modern world (Glenn Maxwell is a great example). May be they can learn from Kula.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:00 GMT)

A great write up, as always.

Posted by rajithwijepura on (June 19, 2013, 18:51 GMT)

A wonderful gentleman in game of cricket. Probably only fast bowler who I never saw sledging.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 17:59 GMT)

As usual wonderful artcile by Andrew.. nothing to add.. He is a humble player.. that ball he bowled to Clarke at Gabba one of the greatest inswing delivery in the cricket history.. that was magical spell.. Kule is the architecture of inswing bowling..

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 17:52 GMT)

I hope Sri Lanka leaves out Shaminda Eranga in favor of Thisara Perera or Sachitra Senanayake..... Eranga (and Kusal Perera) need more time to develop, and, if he is included, runs the risk of getting thrashed by the Indians. Also, can SL afford to give Kusal Perera another chance, in a knock-out game? No. Mahela has to open the innings in place of Kusal and this will give the chance to include Thisara and Sachitra.

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