Upul Tharanga May 17, 2006

Opening the debate

The Lowdown on Upul Tharanga, who began Sri Lanka's historic fightback at Lord's with a half-century

With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or as an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka's young opener.

Tharanga on his way to a fifty at Lord's © Getty Images

With all the talk over Sanath Jayasuriya's 'will he, won't he' comeback spare a thought for the current Sri Lankan openers. Never mind having to face a powerful England new-ball attack, in seaming May conditions, they also have the unknown factor of whether they'll be pushed aside by someone who apparently retired a month ago.

Jehan Mubarak will not remember his Lord's debut with any fondness after scores of 0 and 6 and for all the world Upul Tharanga appeared to be heading the same direction. Following a first-innings 10, he was playing and missing against Matthew Hoggard with England sensing blood. Then something changed; within the space of three overs from Andrew Flintoff, Tharanga threaded four boundaries through the covers and he was a player transformed.

With the heroics of Mahela Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara grabbing the headlines, Tharanga's innings has slipped into the background, but his half-century laid the seeds of Sri Lanka's greatest recovery. Strangely for a batsman from the subcontinent it was the spin of Monty Panesar that eventually troubled him and brought about his downfall when he played away from his body to one that didn't spin.

However, Tharanga has also overcome a challenge bigger than any bowling attack can offer. When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2005, Tharanga's family home in Amabalangoda, a small fishing town on the west coast, was crushed and all their belongings were dragged out to sea in the backwash.

Fortunately, like so many budding first-class cricketers in Sri Lanka, Tharanga had left the countryside to build a career in the city but all his cricket equipment had been lost. Kumar Sangakkara, his long-time friend and mentor, dipped into his own pocket to help him get new bats, pads, gloves and helmets and his ODI debut in August 2005 was a major milestone in his family's recovery.

From an early age he was tipped for the big time, playing Premier League cricket for Singha CC at the age of 15 and passing successfully through the Sri Lanka Under-15, U-17 and U-19 development squads. But that does not always equate into a successful career at the top level; it takes something extra to succeed. The initial signs are that Tharanga has that quality.


January 2002
Part of the Sri Lankan squad at the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand.

February 2004
Another U-19 World Cup, this time in Bangladesh, and scores 117 against South Africa.

August 2005
ODI debut against West Indies at Dambulla.

September 2005
Hits first ODI century against Bangladesh, off 104 balls, at the Premadasa Stadium.

December 2005
Test debut against India at Ahmedabad. Scores 2 and 47 as Sri Lanka lose by 259 runs.

March 2006
Notches first Test century, 165 against Bangladesh at Bogra, where the next best score of the innings is 49.

March 2006
Scores 72 against Pakistan in the second innings at the Premadasa Stadium.

Current form
Began the tour of England with a century against British Universities, but struggled against the swinging ball as the opposition got stronger. However, as he bedded in at Lord's the confidence returned and he reached his third Test fifty in six matches.

Vital Stat
Both his highest Test score, 165, and highest ODI score, 105, are also Tharanga's career bests in first-class and limited overs cricket.

What he says - when first selected for the full side
"I am completely devoted to this game and my ambition is to cement a place in the Sri Lanka team."

What they say - Kumar Sangakkara
"He is an opening batsman with huge potential, a very stylish player who, if he works properly on his game, can enjoy a length career. He has a repertoire of strokes, great rhythm when he bats and is also blessed with fine timing. In my mind, he has got everything he needs, and it's now up to him to see whether he can streamline and work hard."

What you may not know
The Sri Lankan cricket board sent him to play league cricket in Essex, for Loughton Cricket Club. He played a game for Essex 2nd XI and scored the small matter of 158 against Middlesex 2nds at Southgate.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo