Versatile Dilshan up for any challenge
Tillakaratne Dilshan is a man in a hurry. It's the case for every late bloomer. Not long ago, he was just another waste of abundant natural talent. Then he found himself a permanent place at the top of the order, and he changed as a batsman. Now he is no mood to let go of any opportunity that comes his way, not even wicketkeeping.
Just before the start of this series, Sri Lanka were in trouble because of injuries to two key players, the best spinner and possibly the best wicketkeeper in the world. With Muttiah Muralitharan out they needed to play an extra bowler, and with Prasanna Jayawardene also ruled out, they had an opportunity to squeeze in another bowler (Angelo Mathews) by making one of the batsmen keep wicket. Kumar Sangakkara had to bat at No. 3 and also captain, so he asked Dilshan what he thought of it. "I said yes. I am ready to do anything and everything for the team," Dilshan told Cricinfo.
It was a big gamble to get a non-regular keeper to go into a Test match. In some ways Dilshan was the perfect man for the job. He is at a stage in his career where nothing fazes him. Right now, he is an extremely confident man, and if seen from afar perhaps even overconfident. Dilshan the batsman doesn't worry about the previous ball, if he was either comprehensively beaten or played the worst shot in the book. Dilshan the wicketkeeper is no different. He doesn't worry about the previous miss or the number of byes against his name, he is always looking ahead.
He let go 25 byes in the last match, but effected two run-outs that normal wicketkeepers might have struggled with. What he lacks in pure skill, he makes up for with superb hand-eye coordination and athleticism.
Dilshan and the rest of the team will acknowledge that he is not the prettiest behind the stumps, but that doesn't really affect him. "I am not bothered about the technique," he said. "I took every catch and stumping that came my way. So I don't need to think about technique." Pretty much what you'd expect from a man who plays the most unbelievable of shots in world cricket.
Dilshan will also remind you of how he started off as a wicketkeeper. "The thing is, I started my career as a wicketkeeper," he said. "I came to the side in 1999, when Romesh Kaluwitharana was keeping, so I had to play without wicketkeeping. I took that challenge too. But my body still has some keeping left in it."
It's worth noting that Sangakkara often keeps in the limited-overs format. "In the next couple of months, you could see me keeping in the one-dayers also," Dilshan says. "Already I have done that in four-five one-dayers, and a Twenty20. I am trying to grab every opportunity that comes to me."
But it is as big a sacrifice as it is a risk. It should have some sort of impact on his batting, although it helps that he comes in at No. 6. "Not really," he says. "The thing is, we are professional cricketers, we are doing proper fitness training, and everything. My fitness level is very high. I can do keeping and batting easily with my fitness level."
Every word Dilshan says is full of the kind of confidence that his coaches feel can sometimes end up bringing him down. "He is someone who needs to be kept on the edge," Paul Farbrace, Sri Lanka's assistant coach, told Cricinfo last month. "He has such belief in his own ability and is very strong-minded, and sometimes that's his downfall."
"I am ready to do anything in international cricket, be it keeping, batting, fielding, bowling," Dilshan says. "I am enjoying doing whatever the captains or selectors ask. I am ready to deliver anything."
One of those can be a move up the order in Tests too. But he has to wait, for such a move cannot be possible with him having to keep wicket on a more regular basis.
The move to have Dilshan keeping in Tests has to be a temporary one, because it is too big a gamble. A specialist is always the better option. Twenty five byes is way too many on a good pitch, but Sri Lanka feel what the allrounder Mathews brought in (on debut) meant more than that. A dropped catch or a missed stumping might make them change their mind, and Dilshan is hell bent on not letting that moment arrive. Still somewhere down the line, they will have to find a solution. Until such time, with the man who can do anything behind the stumps, nobody is complaining.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo