Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd ODI, Dambulla August 28, 2016

Imperfect, but this was just the pre-farewell

The fans who flocked to Dambulla for Tillakaratne Dilshan's final ODI were treated to a few memorable glimpses, but the real farewell will come in next month's T20s

Tillakaratne Dilshan's final ODI did not go precisely to script © Associated Press

Oh, this is perfect. Tillakaratne Dilshan's third-over drive off Mitchell Starc picks a gap not much wider than one of the strips of hair in his goatee. It is vintage Dilshan - taking on the opposition's fastest bowler, early in the innings. Some people have driven from Colombo for this. Some people have taken public transport, stopped at snack shops, had tea sweet enough to send their teeth floating into the cup, lined up for ages outside the ground, got into a fight with an idiot trying to push in line, and been barked at by a policeman for this.

Others haven't bothered buying tickets but have at least made the effort of piling in through gaps in the fence. Still more have found the banks too crammed, and taken up higher vantage points. There are about half a dozen men on a piece of scaffolding above the western stand. A few more have climbed to the top of the big LED screen. One of the trees on the northwest bank has more legs dangling from it than leaves.

While Dilshan sets himself in motion in the middle, the Dambulla stadium has become a throbbing, heaving, clinging, singing sea of Dilshan-love. "No bodies perfect like Dilshan" reads a sign. Is this a misspelling or a tribute to the appearance of Sri Lanka's most frequently sans-pants cricketer? Dilshan has become a great batsman in recent years, hitting hundreds almost everywhere since 2009, but first he was a standard-bearer for partial nudity on dressing room balconies - beamed to television screens across the planet in an array of too-small towels and Y-front underwear to match the breadth and range of his strokes.

His batting slowed after an initial burst, but the scampered singles are cheered rapturously. In reality, it is an innings in which too few of the Dilshan checklist were ticked off. There is no whirling-dervish pull shot, no sweep off a fast bowler, no whiplash cover drive, no reverse-lap, and withhold the cherry, for alas, there is not a single scoop.

And he is out to a legspinner's full toss, which is terrible. This is the kind of ball he'd usually hit with such ferocity as to make modern, IPL-breed commentators erupt in euphoric spouts of self-urination.

He leaves the field, bat raised, earring glistening, to a standing ovation. This not his best work by any stretch of the imagination, but oh, how wonderful - several of his team-mates are still insisting on paying tribute to Dilshan's innings in the traditional fashion: by immediately collapsing in a pungent heap. This they have done many times, in many places, like Rajkot, or Dunedin, or Khettarama.

The bowling crease brings Dilshan even less joy than the batting, but at least at point there are reliable thrills to be had. When he makes a fine, diving save, team-mates flock from all corners to slap some skin, maybe figuring this was the last chance to have some fielding magic rub off on them. He also catches David Warner leaping low to his left, but although this raised a gigantic cheer, Dilshan's celebrations are relatively restrained, in comparison to his cross-field sprints, the others chasing him like cops after a pantomime burglar.

Still, one last time, Dilshan was able to walk off an ODI field and talk about how much he loved fielding, how much time he spent fielding, and how he would marry fielding if only it was legal. "I never think about my age when I field," he said. "I really like it when the ball comes towards me. If all 300 balls came to me, I'd love that. Until a couple of years ago, if the ball is not coming to where I'm fielding, I go to the place that the ball is going and field there - maybe fine leg or third man, or wherever. I really enjoy it."

Before this match, Angelo Mathews had said Dilshan's contributions had been on par with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene's and just like for those two, his interview at the presentation ceremony is loudly interrupted by fireworks no one was paying attention to. But this is no perfect finish. It is a middling personal innings and a narrow team loss, so it is not even close. But let us not kid ourselves. This is the pre-farewell. There are two T20s still to come. This one didn't have to be perfect, though it was quite good in parts.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • armchair_critic007 on August 29, 2016, 13:18 GMT

    How can an andrew article have no comments. Heres one! Dillers will be missed

  • No featured comments at the moment.