Samarawickrama strikes rich form
St Joseph's College in Maradana, Colombo, has a rich cricketing culture and its alumni include Chaminda Vaas, Thisara Perera and current Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews. A rising star from the same institution is the Sri Lanka Under-19 opening batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama, who has been one of their players to watch in the World Cup. With two half-centuries in both league matches, preceded by 82 in the warm-up match against India, the right-hander has been instrumental in getting his team off to good starts.
Having watched England graft their way to 230 in Dubai, with the long boundaries making it harder to find the ropes, it was expected that Sri Lanka would have to show similar application. However, Samarawickrama's batting had the extra element of power which combined with his well-placed drives made it harder for England to contain him.
A bulk of Samarawickrama's early boundaries were through the region of extra cover as he punished anything full by the seamers. He continued batting in the same gear even after Sri Lanka had lost two wickets in as many balls and needed rebuilding. His Under-19 coach, Naveed Nawaz, said that how he is as a person has rubbed off on his batting as well.
"He is a very positive person. He is always thinking positively. Even his batting is very positive," Nawaz said. "I think from the time I saw him initially when he was young, he has matured a lot during the years building up to the World Cup.
"The boundaries didn't surprise me because he is a natural timer of the ball. When the ball is coming to the bat, he is a better cricketer."
Samarawickrama had smashed 10 fours in his 82, as many as what England managed in their innings. A century was there for the taking but he gave it away when he top-edged a pull, at a time when Sri Lanka's chances hinged on him. His side needed a further 71 with five wickets remaining but the team's batting depth ensured that his efforts didn't go in vain.
"There was a bit of a pressure after I got out, but I had trust in my players," Samarawickrama said when asked if he feared the game was lost after his departure. "We are a good batting team, even the tail-enders chip in. I had faith in them."
Samarawickrama had opportunities to convert all his last three fifties and Nawaz said he was upset with the timing and nature of his dismissal.
Nawaz said he first spotted the batsman's potential three years ago during a school game and wasn't afraid to test him against boys older than him. "We picked him up and brought him to play for the U-19 trials three years back," Nawaz said. "Initially he was not picked up for the U-19 squad at that time, but knowing his potential, we always kept an eye on him on how he was doing."
He missed a century in his U-19 one-day debut for Sri Lanka in 2013, falling for 83 against Bangladesh. However, his form tapered off and had failed to pass fifty till he set foot in the UAE for the World Cup.
Samarawickrama is also a part-time wicketkeeper, thus making him a utility player. He says that U-19 cricket has taught him to keep things simple as far as batting is concerned. He also likes to switch off from cricket a day before a match, as a way to beat nervousness. "I relax and listen to a lot of classical music," he says.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo