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A century for Lahiru Thirimanne in Adelaide was the latest evidence of a welcome regeneration in Sri Lanka's batting
January 14, 2013
Some images stick more readily in the mind than others. Among this summer's most indelible sights have been an exhausted and exasperated Peter Siddle on his haunches in Adelaide, Ricky Ponting bowing graciously to the WACA ground at the end of his Test career, and Michael Hussey barely able to contain his glee when carried from the SCG by Siddle and Mitchell Johnson at the conclusion of his.
To these may now be added an embrace by two young Sri Lankan cricketers upon the completion of the visitors' eight-wicket hiding of Australia at Adelaide Oval. Lahiru Thirimanne and Kushal Perera completed the task with panache and professionalism, but their spontaneous outburst of joy upon reaching the target demonstrated how much it meant to take their team to a first win of the tour.
Thirimanne had the additional pleasure of reaching a century with the winning boundary, and his fluency on a pitch no batsman found easy to negotiate was the latest episode in the most promising subplot of Sri Lanka's visit down under.
As Australia shuffle their players strenuously while looking ahead to future assignments, it is arguable that the stronger signs of regeneration are evident on the opposing side. Quietly, but notably, Sri Lanka's batting is showing evidence of new and genuine growth, of the kind that has eluded the nation's cricket team for a generation.
At the start of the tour, familiar concerns were raised about the fragility of the talent beneath Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. They were raised in pitch at the moment Sangakkara's hand was shattered by Johnson at the MCG. But following the contributions of a trio of young batsmen over the Sydney Test and so far in the ODI series, those voices of doubt are losing their edge.
None of Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne are entirely new faces. All had played for their country before this tour, with varying degrees of success. In Chandimal's case it has been a source of curiosity for some time why he had not yet been granted a more permanent place in the Test team; his composure at the crease and with the gloves when replacing the injured Sangakkara in Sydney certainly indicated a sate of readiness. Karunaratne is the more recent addition to the national squad, and he emerged from the Test series having learned plenty of lessons, putting them into practice with a refined 85 at the SCG.
In terms of international exposure, Thirimanne is somewhere in between the other two, having made his Test debut in England in 2011 and his ODI bow the year before. In and out of the national team ever since, he only joined this tour as a reinforcement after the string of injuries suffered during an ignominious defeat in Melbourne. Nonetheless, the Australians had reason to respect Thirimanne even before his flight landed in Sydney ahead of the third Test.
His first encounter with them had been in a tour match when Michael Clarke's team visited Sri Lanka before the 2011-12 summer, and a doughty second innings century at P Sara Oval demonstrated a neat technique and collected temperament that appeared likely to serve him well in the future. A Test match appearance later on the same tour was less notable, but even then Thirimanne showed a capacity to stick to the crease, seeing off 79 deliveries before Siddle pierced his defence on the 80th.
Runs at home are a great thing for any batsman, but to make them overseas in unfamiliar climes is to suggest that there is enough vitality and resourcefulness within to succeed anywhere. Thirimanne knew this when he shrugged off jetlag while walking to the centre of the SCG, and against an Australian pace attack hungry for a rapid conclusion to the series his 91 ensured the tourists would stay afloat for far longer than they had managed in Melbourne. A source of frustration to Thirimanne for its conclusion before a century was reached, that innings was to be doubly unfulfilling when Australia ultimately pressed on to inflict a five-wicket defeat.
|Thirmanne's strokeplay is considered rather than limited, for he is able to manoeuvre the ball to most parts of the ground, and at times can unfurl a drive to please those who have watched plenty of similar shots by his seniors|
All that was in Thirimanne's mind when he set about chasing a paltry target in Adelaide. He walked to the wicket at the fall of Upul Tharanga - who increasingly carries the haunted air of a talent unfulfilled - in the first over of the pursuit, but aided by a composed Tillakaratne Dilshan set about closing in on the required runs. Thirmanne's strokeplay is considered rather than limited, for he is able to manoeuvre the ball to most parts of the ground, and at times can unfurl a drive to please those who have watched plenty of similar shots by his seniors. Most importantly he seems to have found the ability to adjust his batting to the circumstances, and now possesses most gears on the continuum from stonewall to sprint.
Dilshan's departure, 34 runs short, moved Jayawardene to send in Perera, who quickly showed his own shotmaking talent with a six swung to square leg and a coruscating drive to the cover fence from a nonplussed Xavier Doherty. But he reined himself in from there to allow Thirimanne a chance to make the century that eluded him in Sydney. "Sydney Test, after the match I thought I could have got a century," Thirmanne said afterwards. "So that was in my mind when I was 90, so I tried to keep my head still and play along the ground. After that Kushal helped me a lot to score the hundred."
Having levelled the series, Perera and Thirimanne savoured the victory with real feeling, for it had been as hard earned as it was deserved. The Sri Lankan win in Adelaide may prove to be a key moment on this tour. Moreover, this tour may prove a turning point in Sri Lankan batting. In Thirimanne, Chandimal and Karunaratne, there is plenty of reason to hope.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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