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Shockingly strange Sri Lankans

Is there anything sane and normal about a team full of wannabe openers? No, there isn't

Andrew Fernando

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Tillakaratne Dilshan reached his century off 73 balls, India v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Rajkot, December 15, 2009
Dilshan: from dud to dude © AFP
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It's quite likely that many people from around the world believe that everyone who comes from Sri Lanka is a freaking nutjob. And they are right. Because we are.

We drive like we're in the middle of an acid trip, cook food that tastes like volcanoes, and have surnames that no one outside our own families can pronounce.

Even our cricket team is crammed with a clique of the nuttiest crackpots ever to exist.

Sanath Jayasuriya is a picture of serenity off the field, but hits the ball like he wants us all to die. Clearly the man is psychotic. Lasith Malinga thought he was too good to bowl in the usual, non-deranged fashion, so he picked the most difficult way to deliver a cricket ball and made himself good at it. Murali ruined humanity's faith in vision by fooling us into thinking he chucks the ball. Angelo Mathews can't quite grasp the concept of a boundary rope. And Dilshan looks like he shaves himself with a bear trap.

But we all know that the Sri Lankan team is weird. For years cricket writers and commentators, bound by political correctness, have been labelling Sri Lankan cricketers "unique" and "different", when everyone knew what they really meant was "horrifyingly strange". But there is yet another way in which this team separates itself from normality. While most other cricketing nations are engaged in the very understandable pursuit of searching for the perfect opening pair, Sri Lanka seem to be oddly adept at producing an entire batting line-up of specialist openers.

Remember when Dilshan was down at six? He used to make batting look like Arjuna Ranatunga at a buffet. Now he's all dilscoopin' charm and sex appeal. Jayasuriya too started off batting lower down. He moved up the order and bowlers cried themselves to sleep for the next 14 years.

Even players like Mahela Jayawardene and part-nerd, part-jock Kumar Sangakkara, who specialise in either edging the ball to first slip early on in their innings or dead-batting their way to a highly stimulating middle-order hundred, become strokemaking Casanovas when they are asked to open. Their ODI batting averages are markedly higher at the top than they are in their usual positions. While regular cricketers prefer to steer clear of the swinging new ball being hurled down the wicket at ridiculous speeds, Sri Lanka has a team full of freaks who get off on the idea of bowlers trying to send five-and-a-half ounces of hard leather crashing into their faces. There is something quite seriously wrong with us as a people.

Given Sri Lankan batsmen's natural proficiency at opening, though, it's frankly a little unfair that strugglers like Thilina Kandamby and Chamara Kapugedera are doomed to play out the rest of their careers in middle-order mediocrity. Once in a while they should be given the chance to open. After all they are no less likely to shed the "steady accumulators" tag and follow in the footsteps of the ball-thumping batting gods who went up the order before them.

Everyone in the team should be able to enjoy the career-changing confidence that comes with opening for Sri Lanka. Even the bowlers. You'd be a fool to bet against Murali swiping his way to a maiden ton within the first 15 overs of a game. Heck, open with the team bus driver now and again. He's Sri Lankan. He'll be good at it. Bunch of crazy weirdos.

Andrew Fernando is a student at Auckland University

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