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

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

  • Ali 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!

  • Dummy4 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

  • Lakpriya 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.

  • Anjana 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 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.

  • Nuwan 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.

  • Dummy4 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 !

  • Chatty 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.

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2012, 10:34 GMT

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

  • Dummy4 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

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