ICC World Twenty20 2012 August 24, 2012

Who is Akila Dananjaya?

Akila Dananjaya has all the variations but what's most impressive is the cunning with which he uses them
20

When Akila Dananjaya's name appeared in Sri Lanka's provisional squad for the ICC World Twenty20, the rumour mill spun out stories where the media could not. Some accused his family of using political clout to achieve his sudden elevation. It would not have been the first time, after all. Others alleged money had passed hands - a favour in exchange for funds for an ailing board. Others still supposed it was a mistake, or an oversight. Why would an 18-year-old unknown, who has never played for Sri Lanka at Under-19 level, let alone any first-class or List A cricket, be picked for the national side? As is often the case, the truth was perhaps more far-fetched, and certainly more charming, than fiction.

Dananjaya is the son of a carpenter from Panadura, just south of Colombo. He had been playing tier-three school cricket for the little-known Mahanama Vidyalaya when he was invited to a Sri Lanka practice session ahead of Pakistan's tour in June. Coach Graham Ford and Mahela Jayawardene had been searching for a bowler who could mimic Saeed Ajmal, and his doosra in particular. What they got in Dananjaya was more than just a competent impostor.

In his first professional match, for Wayamba United in the SLPL, Dananjaya showcased the tools with which he had so impressed Jayawardene and Ford that they requested he be fast-tracked to the tips of the national team. He began with several stock offspinners, flighted, dipping, and ripping out of the Premadasa clay. Then the googly was introduced. More subtle than most at the point of delivery, but then so was the turn - not that that was any mercy to the three batsmen who have fallen to it in the tournament so far. The doosra followed, his first ball to cut away from the right-hander. The legbreak next, flighted again and with a slight snap of overspin. And the carrom ball last - maybe a tad too short to be truly effective, giving the batsman time to read it off the pitch.

But perhaps the most impressive aspects of his game were not his variations, but the cunning with which he used them. In each of his spells throughout the SLPL, Dananjaya has resisted trotting out his deliveries for the circus. Each ball has been deliberate, each length has attempted to draw the batsman into a false stroke, though he does occasionally miss his target and overpitch. His focus on his own game has been encouraging too. Instead of allowing nerves to frighten him into a defensive approach, he has seemed in complete control, at home even, in the limelight. "What's been really good to see is his temperament, for a guy who hasn't played at this level before," Wayamba United and former Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss said. "The control with which he bowls his various deliveries is impressive, but he's also shown a lot of poise at the big moments, and a tendency to ignore what's going on around him and do what he does."

A drive to excel has also been apparent. In the last over of his second match, he gave one ball a touch too much air and was tonked back over his head for six. The blow had only bumped his figures down from outstanding to excellent - he still claimed 2 for 20 from his four overs - but it was enough to spark visible frustration. That he abhors to serve up poor deliveries is plain from his economy rate. In 16 overs in the SLPL so far, he has conceded only 4.81 an over.

Like Ajantha Mendis eventually discovered at Test level, perhaps Dananjaya's mystery will dim with the help of time and reels of videotape. "The challenge for him will come when batsmen get a better look at him and begin to work him out," Bayliss said. "But he has the basics there to make him a good bowler regardless, and maybe in future his focus might be on the more orthodox aspects of spin bowling."

Mendis has also been named in the final squad for the World Twenty20, a format in which he is still very effective. If Dananjaya hopes to become Sri Lanka's long-term spinner in every format, he may only need to look in his own dressing room for a caution on over-reliance on mystery. The novelty of his method may get him through his first international assignment, but he must prove himself a disciple of flight, dip and turn, if he is to truly make good on his considerable promise.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • alikhan8993 on August 26, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    I myself am quite not sure whether he bowls legspin or off spin. His action suggest legspin but the way the ball spins looks like offspin!

  • on August 25, 2012, 6:30 GMT

    an absolute talent, specially since his stock ball turns sharply so he does not have to rely on mystery

  • Lakpj on August 25, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    Biggest plus point in Akila is that he is not a mystery bowler like mendis,like Ajmal he uses the conventional spinning techniques in a new way and he turns the bowl. even if someone can pick where the bowl is turning, no one guess how much he going to spin it.

  • Balumekka on August 25, 2012, 1:42 GMT

    What the media and the fans should do is to help this kid by not creating a hype on him. He is just at the beginning of a career and he has almost never been tested. When people discuss about him too much, if he fails to deliver to the expectations, he will be under lot of pressure. Great Aravinda de Silva once said that although he was superior as a young batsman in the domestic level, when he faced the first over in international cricket (delivered by Hadlee) he realized the international cricket is being played with a totally different level of attitude and skill. You cant expect Murali from someone else. Over hyped players like Swann or Harbhajan have proved over the years that they are not even close to the league of spinners that include Murali and Warne.

  • Maestro_of_Cricket on August 24, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    Next Murali? Already? Come on people we all know what happened to Mendis. Don't keep hopes that high. If he makes out to be a decent spinner like Herath who can spearhead the spin attack at some point in time that's enough.

  • Danksl on August 24, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    Hey Little Champ you are 18 and more talented than anyone else I could imagine in domestic circuit in SL. I wish you will learn from Mahela and Sanga how to face the world of cricket. Be humble and work hard you will be fruitful.

    I see a big future ahead of you. Keep your cool and never forget where you started.

  • on August 24, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    My wish is for is hope is for him to be humble like and pick many wickets as possible or may be break Muralis record someday as he is only 18 still. I hope FAME doesn't hit him hard to be arrogant and big headed like it did with Virat Kohli !

  • KingOwl on August 24, 2012, 11:06 GMT

    It is great to see SL 'find' bowlers from obscurity. It's a great strength for a country to have. Kudos to both Mahela and Graham Ford, plus Trevor Bayliss of course. On Youtube footage it appears as if this new boy flights the ball quite a bit, whereas Mendis mostly bowls flat - almost like medium pace. I think comparing him to Mendis is not accurate at all.

  • on August 24, 2012, 10:34 GMT

    Great Little Murali.....................

  • on August 24, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    Akila seems to be a good prospect for future Sri Lanka cricket. He may one day become a top class spinner if he aculate a good nagging length that could fox top quality batting. Our selectors will have to use him very carefully as some times he may be too raw to accept chalengers coming from world class batsmen specially in the T20 world cup matches. we thought even Ajantha Mendis could be a ideal partner for Murali, but it was not the case as specially Indian batsmen rellay made him up side down through big hitting. If akila could be properly guided by good coaching and advice him to bowl on the right areas that could fox good quality batting that would do world of good for sri lanka cricket

  • alikhan8993 on August 26, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    I myself am quite not sure whether he bowls legspin or off spin. His action suggest legspin but the way the ball spins looks like offspin!

  • on August 25, 2012, 6:30 GMT

    an absolute talent, specially since his stock ball turns sharply so he does not have to rely on mystery

  • Lakpj on August 25, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    Biggest plus point in Akila is that he is not a mystery bowler like mendis,like Ajmal he uses the conventional spinning techniques in a new way and he turns the bowl. even if someone can pick where the bowl is turning, no one guess how much he going to spin it.

  • Balumekka on August 25, 2012, 1:42 GMT

    What the media and the fans should do is to help this kid by not creating a hype on him. He is just at the beginning of a career and he has almost never been tested. When people discuss about him too much, if he fails to deliver to the expectations, he will be under lot of pressure. Great Aravinda de Silva once said that although he was superior as a young batsman in the domestic level, when he faced the first over in international cricket (delivered by Hadlee) he realized the international cricket is being played with a totally different level of attitude and skill. You cant expect Murali from someone else. Over hyped players like Swann or Harbhajan have proved over the years that they are not even close to the league of spinners that include Murali and Warne.

  • Maestro_of_Cricket on August 24, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    Next Murali? Already? Come on people we all know what happened to Mendis. Don't keep hopes that high. If he makes out to be a decent spinner like Herath who can spearhead the spin attack at some point in time that's enough.

  • Danksl on August 24, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    Hey Little Champ you are 18 and more talented than anyone else I could imagine in domestic circuit in SL. I wish you will learn from Mahela and Sanga how to face the world of cricket. Be humble and work hard you will be fruitful.

    I see a big future ahead of you. Keep your cool and never forget where you started.

  • on August 24, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    My wish is for is hope is for him to be humble like and pick many wickets as possible or may be break Muralis record someday as he is only 18 still. I hope FAME doesn't hit him hard to be arrogant and big headed like it did with Virat Kohli !

  • KingOwl on August 24, 2012, 11:06 GMT

    It is great to see SL 'find' bowlers from obscurity. It's a great strength for a country to have. Kudos to both Mahela and Graham Ford, plus Trevor Bayliss of course. On Youtube footage it appears as if this new boy flights the ball quite a bit, whereas Mendis mostly bowls flat - almost like medium pace. I think comparing him to Mendis is not accurate at all.

  • on August 24, 2012, 10:34 GMT

    Great Little Murali.....................

  • on August 24, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    Akila seems to be a good prospect for future Sri Lanka cricket. He may one day become a top class spinner if he aculate a good nagging length that could fox top quality batting. Our selectors will have to use him very carefully as some times he may be too raw to accept chalengers coming from world class batsmen specially in the T20 world cup matches. we thought even Ajantha Mendis could be a ideal partner for Murali, but it was not the case as specially Indian batsmen rellay made him up side down through big hitting. If akila could be properly guided by good coaching and advice him to bowl on the right areas that could fox good quality batting that would do world of good for sri lanka cricket

  • on August 24, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    I knew that this guy is going to be a verry good partner for future SL cricket team. I guessed it when i so his 1 st over of his List A cricket debut. I believe he will be the next muralitharan for srilanka and world cricket... and I bet he will easyly take 100 wkts for his account in just less than 50 world T20 matches.......good luck srilanka goodluck akila..thanks to mahela and Graham Ford..

  • on August 24, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    this is a very timely take. i saw this guy and really like his potential. but it is all about his hard work which will keep him inside team 11. he is having age and having a great captain like mahela to lead . his grooming process should be clearly done and should be a main weapon along with ajantha in long run.if we can use him t win the 20*29 wc why not to use him .it should not be missing him in long run..

  • johnathonjosephs on August 24, 2012, 6:06 GMT

    Hope he becomes the next Murali

  • on August 24, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    I have seen both Mendis and Akila in action.

    Akila is far superior. The way he flights the ball and CONSITENTLY lands the deliveries in trouble areas for batsman is his real strength. When he bowls both off spin and legspin + doosra/googly that is just the icing on the cake,

    Mendis just relies on tricking the batsman into thinking he will spin it then the ball going on straight and changing bounce a bit, more often than not the carrom ball is too short and mendis has very weak stock delivery.

    Mendis was entirely built on his surprise factor, his control is extremely poor. Successful mystery spinners such as Ajmal/Murali know that control is more important than just throwing out variations. Also flight is a very big weapon and Mendis is just too flat to be good. Akila flight the ball very well.

    As a Pakistani, I must say I am gneuinely excited to see akila because he feels like a power spinner, something we haven't seen too much of since Murali except sometimes Ajmal.

  • on August 24, 2012, 3:45 GMT

    Srilanka always look for spinners who are different but not who can turn the ball and do the basics right...but history says that spinners who can turn the ball in all conditions can only last long...look what happened to mendis...probably they should look for a bowler like murli...

  • Udendra on August 24, 2012, 3:38 GMT

    well, I don't think Akila is a mystery spinner, but one who bowls lots of stuff in a good mix. The mystery aspect lies largely on Carrom balls that no one's sure which way it will deviate.

  • RodStark on August 24, 2012, 2:36 GMT

    "With the help of time and reels of videotape" Really? Do they really still use videotape?

  • ATIMAYANK on August 24, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Promise is just one part of the story. Players with promise must be well groomed before being tracked into the national side. Fastracking has two disadvantages. First, instant failure dents the confidence of upcoming stars so much that they hardly ever recover. Second, instant fame gets into heads of some of these youngsters and that again leads to failure. Also, they break quickly in big matches since they havent been groomed enough to handle pressure situations. So to sum up there is more to loose to gain here! I wish him luck and hope SL handle him well.

  • SLChampika on August 24, 2012, 2:29 GMT

    well done for article.wish very good future for young spinner in sri lanka cricket

  • on August 24, 2012, 1:33 GMT

    Gud luck hope you do well in the T20 ...........

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on August 24, 2012, 1:33 GMT

    Gud luck hope you do well in the T20 ...........

  • SLChampika on August 24, 2012, 2:29 GMT

    well done for article.wish very good future for young spinner in sri lanka cricket

  • ATIMAYANK on August 24, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Promise is just one part of the story. Players with promise must be well groomed before being tracked into the national side. Fastracking has two disadvantages. First, instant failure dents the confidence of upcoming stars so much that they hardly ever recover. Second, instant fame gets into heads of some of these youngsters and that again leads to failure. Also, they break quickly in big matches since they havent been groomed enough to handle pressure situations. So to sum up there is more to loose to gain here! I wish him luck and hope SL handle him well.

  • RodStark on August 24, 2012, 2:36 GMT

    "With the help of time and reels of videotape" Really? Do they really still use videotape?

  • Udendra on August 24, 2012, 3:38 GMT

    well, I don't think Akila is a mystery spinner, but one who bowls lots of stuff in a good mix. The mystery aspect lies largely on Carrom balls that no one's sure which way it will deviate.

  • on August 24, 2012, 3:45 GMT

    Srilanka always look for spinners who are different but not who can turn the ball and do the basics right...but history says that spinners who can turn the ball in all conditions can only last long...look what happened to mendis...probably they should look for a bowler like murli...

  • on August 24, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    I have seen both Mendis and Akila in action.

    Akila is far superior. The way he flights the ball and CONSITENTLY lands the deliveries in trouble areas for batsman is his real strength. When he bowls both off spin and legspin + doosra/googly that is just the icing on the cake,

    Mendis just relies on tricking the batsman into thinking he will spin it then the ball going on straight and changing bounce a bit, more often than not the carrom ball is too short and mendis has very weak stock delivery.

    Mendis was entirely built on his surprise factor, his control is extremely poor. Successful mystery spinners such as Ajmal/Murali know that control is more important than just throwing out variations. Also flight is a very big weapon and Mendis is just too flat to be good. Akila flight the ball very well.

    As a Pakistani, I must say I am gneuinely excited to see akila because he feels like a power spinner, something we haven't seen too much of since Murali except sometimes Ajmal.

  • johnathonjosephs on August 24, 2012, 6:06 GMT

    Hope he becomes the next Murali

  • on August 24, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    this is a very timely take. i saw this guy and really like his potential. but it is all about his hard work which will keep him inside team 11. he is having age and having a great captain like mahela to lead . his grooming process should be clearly done and should be a main weapon along with ajantha in long run.if we can use him t win the 20*29 wc why not to use him .it should not be missing him in long run..

  • on August 24, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    I knew that this guy is going to be a verry good partner for future SL cricket team. I guessed it when i so his 1 st over of his List A cricket debut. I believe he will be the next muralitharan for srilanka and world cricket... and I bet he will easyly take 100 wkts for his account in just less than 50 world T20 matches.......good luck srilanka goodluck akila..thanks to mahela and Graham Ford..