South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Durban, 2nd day December 27, 2011

An innings worthy of an explosive celebration

Firdose Moonda at Kingsmead
Thilan Samaraweera says his only previous century outside the subcontinent earned him three years of Test cricket. Perhaps his knock in Durban will secure a few more

Thilan Samaraweera has waited more than three years to pull out his machine gun outside Asia. The last time Samaraweera scored a century outside his comfort zone of the subcontinent was in 2008 in Trinidad, when he had not yet displayed his unique celebration to the world.

The celebration was first used in an international match in Lahore, in March 2009, on the back of a second double-century against Pakistan in the series. When Samaraweera brought up the milestone he pointed the handle of his bat at the crowd and fired some mock rounds. In a cruel twist of fate, the next day Samaraweera was shot in the thigh in a terrorist attack on the team bus. He was the most seriously wounded of the Sri Lanka players and took three months to recover before making a comeback in July.

Since then, the machine gun has come out four times: in Galle, twice in Colombo, and now in Durban. Much symbolism can be inferred from it. Perhaps Samaraweera is celebrating life after a close shave in which he could have lost his. In Durban, perhaps he was sending a message to the selectors, who dropped him for the series in the UAE against Pakistan, a team against whom he has an admirable record. Perhaps he was aiming at his critics, who question his age, his commitment and his record outside the subcontinent. His own explanation for the celebration was simple. "I did it in Pakistan in 2009 and it is something I do occasionally in first-class cricket as well," he said, without giving away anything more.

Whatever the significance of it was, this innings was worth that celebration. His two to extra cover made him only the second Sri Lanka batsman, after Hashan Tillakaratne, to score a century in South Africa. It is a statistic that speaks volumes about the amount of application and adjustment required of subcontinent batsmen if they are to perform well in South African conditions.

Samaraweera did not allow the bowlers to dictate to him and forced them to bowl in areas he wanted the ball, primarily on the stumps, allowing him to score two-thirds of his runs on the leg side. Of the first 26 runs he scored, 20 came in boundaries, four of them off overpitched deliveries. He was proficient against the spinner and although he survived nervous moments on the first day, including a missed stumping and a chance that fell short of first slip, was gritty and patient when he needed to be. He spent 52 deliveries in the 80s and another 29 in the 90s, biding his time before inching towards his milestone.

It is a century that he will remember as being potentially career-prolonging and match-winning and one that demonstrates the rewards of a focused approach. Samaraweera said that it was the entire team that had upped their intensity after the loss in the first Test. "Over the last five days we practised really hard. The team management have done a great job, they have supported us well. The senior players talked a lot after the Centurion game. We said, honestly, we didn't bat well; it was a very hard wicket to bat on and we gave 400 runs away, so we didn't do well in either batting or bowling."

Samaraweera has been credited with being one of the most inspirational and level-headed members of the squad, and his hundred in Durban could well spur the whole team on. He, however, laughed modestly when asked about his role in the team and said: "This is my comeback tour and I am really happy getting a hundred."

The innings could represent a coming of age for Samaraweera and represent his growth from that day in 2008 when his hundred in Trinidad marked a defining point in his career. "I got that hundred at a crucial time in my life," he said, referring to the three barren years that has passed before, in which he could not muster a score of more than 65 in the 20 innings he played. "I thought that would give me another stable three years of Test cricket."

That is exactly how long Samaraweera remained a fixture in the Sri Lanka Test team before he was dropped after a poor series against Australia in August-September. The snub came despite a decent tour of England on which his 87 in Southampton was crucial to earning Sri Lanka a draw. Samaraweera said he did not think he would play for Sri Lanka again after he was not named in the squad for the series in the UAE.

"There were very frustrating moments because I had done really well over the last three years. I was not in the UAE for the Pakistan tour and I thought I will never play for Sri Lanka again. Luckily, Mahela [Jayawardene] had a bad knee and I was called up as back-up for the South Africa tour."

Jayawardene recovered from his injury but the need to play an extra batsman and not an additional seamer, as they did against Pakistan, gave Samaraweera his place back in the starting XI and he is determined to keep it. "Now, I have to start again and prepare for a new era," he said.

The era may have already begun. Samaraweera's century stand with debutant Dinesh Chandimal formed the spine of Sri Lanka's first innings and could be the beginning of a new middle-order partnership for Sri Lanka. The young wicketkeeper Chandimal combined the flamboyance of traditional Sri Lankan stroke-play with the sense of Samaraweera and the result was a respectable 58, which could have been more if not for a rash shot. Samaraweera said Chandimal lived up to his potential and showed promising signs for the future. "I told him to enjoy the occasion because there is no need to prove he is good enough to play Test cricket. I controlled his game a little bit in the middle but I didn't want to get too involved because he is a natural stroke-player."

Their partnership could prove crucial to Sri Lanka's chances of winning their first Test on South African soil; something Samaraweera thinks is within reach. "I don't think the pitch will improve over the next two days. It's getting worse and worse. We thought that on day three or four it might have uneven bounce but we had that yesterday also. We were really surprised at the spin Herath got and he will play a big part. If we can get a lead of 350, it will be a difficult score to chase."

Sri Lanka will still need to bat authoritatively to put the match out of South Africa's reach and they will need meaty contributions from the top seven. Samaraweera had one piece of advice for his team-mates about how to succeed on the Kingsmead strip: "Bat straight."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dhushan on December 28, 2011, 18:54 GMT

    Very well played Thilan. CONGRATULATIONS! You showed your critics, including our very own selection panel headed by Dulip Mendis that you have more cricket left in you and not only in the sub continent as well. (There's more needed to be told to our selectors but this is not the place) You on the other hand, keep playing your brand of cricket. I hope you play for more years to come. I hope we win this match to secure a 1st test win for Sri Lanka on South African soil.

  • manjula on December 28, 2011, 15:28 GMT

    Samaraweera saved SL. Congrat to both Sanga & Samaraweera for their tons. No wonder sports minister change selectors choices. It is time for Duleep Mendis and Co. to resign. They have made all the wrong choices. Everyone commented said to include Samaraweera, but not selectors.

  • Rajith on December 28, 2011, 13:45 GMT

    Great work buddy. I really hope the bullet you fired after reaching 100, went through the brains of SL selecters. And it was a game changing partnership you and sanga had in the 2nd inning. Waiting for see more from your bat

  • Valavan on December 28, 2011, 12:40 GMT

    Many indians, who were laughing at SL batting and hiding in bunkers. Oh whats this the indians called World fastest pitch durban because they have won there, but now SL gonna take it, oh i can see loads of stomachs burning here coz SL took the upperhand in the Durban test. Go on SL. Hope you win this test if not the series. cricinfo please publish.

  • Chris on December 28, 2011, 12:21 GMT

    Dulip Mendis should gracefully resign

  • Tanim on December 28, 2011, 12:13 GMT

    Great Innings. Only the second SriLankan batsman, after Hashan Tillakaratne, to score a century in South Africa!!!!............................. .........waiting for another Jaysuriya to come.

  • Romesh on December 28, 2011, 12:03 GMT

    Reading all the correct comments regarding duleep mends surely if he had any class about him he should just resign. But knowing how slc works I doubt it.

  • Sage on December 28, 2011, 10:37 GMT

    Thilan you showed what your bat can do to the Sri Lankan selectors. As fans we knew you were the rock of Sri Lankan middle order. Im so happy for you and keep going mate....we all celebrated in Sri Lanka when you scored the century. You are making Sri Lanka very proud n God bless you!

  • Dru on December 28, 2011, 7:39 GMT

    For once can I say I didnt really disagree with the selectors for dropping Thilan as it was a move to build for the future and the plan for UAE was to play 6 batters so it had to be Thilna or Mathews! Thilan has never had things easy - the guy came in to the side as a back up bowler for Murali and its credit to him that he has converted himself in to a front line batsman. He also adjusted his game plan from a stonewaller to end up playing one day cricket in the last world cup. He was quick to be dropped the moment he failed and never enjoyed that sense of untouchable that say Sanga and Mahela enjoy. His record outside SL is questionable but the fact remains he has been one of the most successfully middle order batsman in the world in the last 3 years. His century in Durban was classic text book and just what SL needed. Was disgusted at the cricinfo commentary when he got his hundred - harping on his away record and not the great hunderd or his form in the last 3 years.

  • Srinath on December 28, 2011, 7:18 GMT

    Great stuff Thilan....He proved that he's got a lot more to give SL cricket...hope so called present selectors (in my version they are bunch of jokers) will step down with dighnity and allow the people who know what's best to SL cricket to run the show. Though he's the best batter on this tour I won't be surprised if they drop him for the next series sighting the age (unless he put on like Mr Duleep Mendis as that might be criteria to be in SL cricket's future plan). I hope Thilan won't get the same treatment what Marvan received from SLC after serving so many years. In my opinion Thilan should be the TEST captain instead of Dilshan. Wish you all the best Thilan !!!!

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