The Lowdown - Chamara Kapugedera June 8, 2006

From zero to hero

The Lowdown on Chamara Kapugedera, the 19-year-old Sri Lankan batsman

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 Chamara Kapugedera, Sri Lanka's 19-year-old batsman.

Chamara Kapugedera bounced back from a first-baller on debut to play a key role at Trent Bridge © Getty Images
Chamara Kapugedera looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights when he was trapped first ball by a low, swinging full toss from Sajid Mahmood in the first innings of his Test debut at Lord's. But first appearances can be deceptive, and three weeks later, he was one of Sri Lanka's heroes as they pulled off their greatest overseas triumph and levelled the series 1-1.

After making 0 and 10 at Lord's, he was dropped for the second Test at Edgbaston despite filling his boots against Sussex. His 134 at Hove was his first century at senior level, in only his eighth first-class match, and it proved vital in getting his tour back on track. Though he missed out at Birmingham, Thilan Samaraweera was unable to end his poor run of form and the selectors turned back to their 19-year-old prodigy.

The battle at Trent Bridge was still finely balanced when Kapugedera joined the fray at 191 for 5 on the third afternoon. His captain, Mahela Jayawardene, had just suffered a rush of blood; nicking to the keeper and flattening his off stump in frustration. Were Sri Lanka about to throw away their golden chance of levelling the series?

Nothing of the sort. In fact, any momentum England felt after removing Jayawardene evaporated as Kapugedera moved to 25 off 32 balls - a decent lick given the match run-rates which harked back a good 10 years. He slowed up considerably, reaching his half-century from 117 balls, but still pushed Sri Lanka's total towards 300 and set the stage for Murali's show.

Kapugedera is no stranger to facing up to a challenge head-on. His one-day international debut came against an Australian attack including Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath and Stuart Clark on a bouncy Perth track. In his third match - the first VB final at Adelaide in January - he launched 38 off 21 balls to turn a useful total into something more intimidating, and condemn Australia to an unlikely defeat.

He's a young player who certainly doesn't take a backward step. With Sri Lanka currently searching for their next generation of batsmen, they have hit upon a teenaged star who could form the backbone for many line-ups to come.

He made a confident start to his one-day career against Australia in the VB series © Getty Images

March 2005
Tours Pakistan with Sri Lanka Under-19s and scores 112 in the first Test in Karachi and 131 in the third ODI at the National Stadium

October 2005
Clubs 96 off 53 balls in the Sri Lanka Twenty20 cup for Colombo Cricket club against Badureliya Sports Club

October 2005
Makes first-class debut for Sri Lanka A against New Zealand A and hits 70 off 120 balls

January 2006
One-day international debut against Australia at Perth

May 2006
Test debut against England at Lord's

May 2006
Scores first first-class century against Sussex

June 2006
First half-century in Tests as Sri Lanka draw series against England 1-1

Vital stat
Kapugedera was so inexperienced when he was selected for Sri Lanka that he has played more first-class matches in England than in his own country. Of his nine first-class games, six have come on the current tour.

What he says - following his call-up against Australia
"Although my childhood ambition was to represent the country some day I never thought it would come so fast. I am happy with the recognition and I hope to make the maximum use of it."

What they say - Aravinda de Silva, in his Observer column, before Kapugedera's Test debut
"He's already impressed me with his knack of reading a situation and playing accordingly. He had an amazing tour of Australia this year and played some audacious knocks. It's not often you see Brett Lee driven back over his head, but this lad did it. Some have compared him to me when I was young, but I don't know, that was such a long time ago. What Kapugedera does have is the most hunger to succeed I've ever seen in a Sri Lankan teenager. He is definitely one to watch."

What you may not know
While Kapugedera was flaying sixes against Brett Lee in the VB Series he could very easily have been part of the Sri Lankan U-19 squad taking part in the World Cup in Colombo. The selectors had opted to take him on the senior tour instead of letting him play in the tournament. Sri Lanka had a tournament to forget, but Kapugedera was already on the road to an international career.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo