South Africa v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Johannesburg January 23, 2012

Happy to see youngsters perform - Dilshan

For the third time on this tour, a Sri Lanka youngster played a vital role in a victory. Bear in mind that Sri Lanka have only won three matches on this tour and it will tell you the importance that the up and coming cricketers have had on the six-week tour of South Africa.

Lahiru Thirimanne's composed 69 off 63 balls was a performance worthy of the Man of the Match award. Even though he didn't get it, he was the man considered important enough to discuss the match with the media, the task usually given to the person who wins the award, after the day's events.

He said he took his innings in his stride even though the task facing him was an enormous one. "When I went in to bat, the asking-rate was 6.80 and it was a difficult situation to adjust to," Thirimanne said. "Kumar [Sangakkara] guided me and we narrowed the gap and got into a situation that was manageable."

Thirimanne was brought on the tour as a reserve opener in the Tests and got his opportunity when Tharanga Paranavitana was dropped. He had to wait for a similar situation in the ODIs and was picked in the starting XI when Mahela Jayawardene got injured. He said that the lessons he learnt on his visit to South Africa will serve him well as his career grows.

"In the Test match, I had to handle a very sharp pace attack as an opener and that was an experience which will help me in the future. The main adjustment one has to make when playing in South Africa is to adapt to the bounce of the wicket," he said. "In the one-dayers, my role was to rotate the strike and try to prolong the innings but I was unable to. In this game I played that role quite well, rotated the strike and hit boundaries that helped us win the game."

While Thirimanne recalled his series with careful thoroughness, Sri Lanka's captain Tillakaratne Dilshan sat with a small smile on his face. He would return home empty handed but he had achieved something that may prove more important in Sri Lanka's future.

"In the last few series I gave the opportunity to youngsters, especially in this series, and we saw them doing it [well] for Sri Lanka," Dilshan said. "I am really happy to do that and to see that they grabbed the opportunities and performed under pressure. I believe in my youngsters, that's the future for Sri Lanka. I want to give them more chances in the middle, so they can get experience. Maybe after the next three to four months, there will be more experienced players in the side. They are showing that they are ready for an international challenge."

Although Dilshan did not lead with the bat, he showed signs of real leadership with his decisions in the field and the faith he showed in the youngsters. Whether he will continue in the position for long enough to see them establish themselves in the national team remains to be seen. Rumours are rising that Dilshan will be replaced as captain before the tri-series in Australia but he said if he asked to carry on, he will do so. "If they offer it to me I will take it, because I am really enjoying my captaincy."

Sri Lankan cricket is set for a mini overhaul in the next few weeks, with Graham Ford confirmed as the new coach in the wake of the Geoff Marsh sacking. It leaves this series little room for context besides acting as the catalyst for major action from the Sri Lanka board.

For Dilshan, there is more to it than just that. A Test win, two victories in the ODIs and to come close in Bloemfontein, which could have changed the complexion of the limited-overs series altogether, was cause to celebrate. "Before we came here everyone thought we were the underdog but we proved we are one of the best sides in the world, especially in one-dayers," he said. "Hopefully, we can carry this performance into the next few tours."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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