Tillakaratne Dilshan retires September 8, 2016

Dilshan, a firestarter to the end

A captain's fantasy and an occasional nightmare, Sri Lanka's retiring hero was defined by the blazes he started, and if they spread quickly enough, that defined the games he played

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Dilshan braces for swansong against Australia

So before Tillakaratne Dilshan has even left the building, he has tried to set the place on fire.

There were the veiled accusations about lack of support from team-mates, after his final ODI. "We shouldn't dig up old grievances," he had said at the time. Moments later, he found himself unable to resist digging them up.

In Sinhala interviews since, the beefs have grown in number, and have become less veiled. "Angelo Mathews had an injury for a whole year, under my captaincy," went one complaint. "Why are some team-mates saying the dilscoop is a shot only a brainless cricketer plays?" was another. And "where was the support from the senior players when I hit 193 with a broken hand, at Lord's, and couldn't play the next game?"

When an obviously-injured Mathews came out to bat in the fourth ODI, hobbling between ends, some had thought this the perfect response to Dilshan - a reclaiming of Mathews' man-of-duty brand. Dilshan, though, was probably watching on, thinking, "Oh sure, in his own captaincy, this p***k can play on a torn calf."

If he is leaving a few reputations singed, what did we really expect? It was always the blazes Dilshan started that defined him, and if they spread quickly enough, that defined the games he played. The whirring cover drive set so many tall totals in motion. When the savage pull and atomising sweep were played, the scene was doused in kerosene and matches were lit. On many days, it was because of Dilshan that the middle order got so many runs. It was because he had cleared out an opposition's plans like a fire does a forest, that saner men could put down their roots; watch their own innings grow.

He was mostly a captain's fantasy, but also, occasionally, a nightmare. A nightmare because he was always wanting to bowl, kept asking to field wherever the action was thickest, and because every one of his appeals for lbw were plumb, and the captain would be out-of-this-world stupid for declining to review.

A fantasy because he has won games as batsman, bowler, fielder, and wicketkeeper, and it's a pity he can only be in one place at a time, because if he could be in the stands, he'd be the best fan, or the greatest hot-dog vendor that ever drew breath, and people would be begging to be dragged out of the stadium by him had he become a crowd-control cop.

Dilshan's utopia is a planet full of Dilshans. At the very least, it is a world in which everyone leans into their work with the blinding energy he brings to his. Doesn't that seem an improvement on the world that we are stuck with? It is difficult to argue against.

He is immensely proud of the dilscoop. Others say Douglas Marillier invented it. Dilshan says it was he who made the shot what it now is, pushing the frontiers of batting out a little further, and the man, of course, has got a point. He alone plays it off a length ball, with head bowed, directly over the wicketkeeper, where no fielder will ever stand. It is an opportunist's sucker punch: the picking of cricket's bulging wallet. He was savvy enough in later years, to realise when the opportunity no longer lay in the early overs, when ODI rules changed and two new balls were nipping around. In his 12 ODI hundreds since 2012, Dilshan prospered through the middle of an innings, stealing as many twos as his still-strong legs could manage, mining just about every gap.

He leaves cricket now, at least a year earlier than he really wants to, though he wasn't quite pushed. The selectors had tapped him on the shoulder, but he also knew that at 39, he would need to score twice as many runs as any batsman jostling to replace him. For once, he didn't fancy the fight.

The men he has recently hassled will eventually get over it. In a few months, cricket will have moved on. But what will not be forgotten are the many manic hues of Dilshan. What cannot be erased are the opening berserks that opened up breaches for team-mates, the elastic prowling at backward point, the six World-Cup fours in an over against Mitchell Johnson, and his hijinks - it always felt like hijinks - with the ball. There were mad run-outs, match-defining catches on the boundary off the final ball, and that time he welcomed Shane Bond back to international cricket with four consecutive fours.

It is prosaic to say that Dilshan has merely left us these memories; it's more that he has burned them into our minds.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mlscricfan on September 10, 2016, 19:14 GMT

    Only bad memory of dilshan is No ball incident to deny century to Sehwag. Otherwise good alround player, happy second innings in life \ud83d\udc4d

  • amuni12 on September 10, 2016, 17:56 GMT

    Dilshan knew how to play the game of cricket. Unfortunately, it appears that he did not know how to play the game of politics. Whether we like it or not, politics is everywhere we go and it is part of our life. An excellent cricketer who gives one hundred percent to the game.

  • Dakuneeka on September 10, 2016, 4:40 GMT

    Some people here try to under estimate what this selfless all time hero did to SL cricket but for me he is a true legend like aravinda,arjuna,gurusinghe & atapaththu. No other cricketers can come near him.Other so called legend always had their agenda behind them always praising western countries & cricketers. That two guys killed the SL cricket & they are jealous with Atapaththu, upul tharanga,kapugedara & kandammby. That's why they removed them from the team.Arjuna & Dili were the best captains SL had recent past.

  • Felix1025 on September 9, 2016, 19:34 GMT

    Dilshan could have had a better farewell (and a luckier farewell) if he had kept his mouth shut as a senior and a respected player. I had lot of respect for him and from the time he acted mad when Matthews supporting Chandimal to score his first ODI hundred in England, my respect for him was kept on declining. True, that he had played many match winning roles. But look at Chaminda Vaas; He never got a farewell from the then BCSL. Vaas surely deserved more than Dilshan. Anyway, after Dilshan was given the ODI farewell, what did he say? Criticized Matthews badly. Mind you, Matthews didn't play the ODI final with India. Sanga was the captain. Did Sanga say anything? When a player is not fit, how can he perform? SLC needs Matthews sometimes purely as a batsman even he can't bowl. This is what happened when Dilshan was captain. Fast bowlers are more prone to injuries. How come Murali was so lucky in his farewell test? He was a man down to earth. GOD helps that type of people!

  • SamRoy on September 9, 2016, 18:47 GMT

    Dilshan, you were a real entertainer. And probably SL's biggest match winner with the bat in limited overs format since Jayasuriya. And a magnificent all-round cricketer (batting, bowling, fielding and even a little bit of wicket-keeping). It's time to say goodbye. Thanks for the memories.

  • Senaratne77 on September 9, 2016, 17:30 GMT

    Where is Jayawardena, Murali, Sangakkara, Ranatunga, De Silva today? Sad, very sad.....especially from Jayawardena whom we regarded as a champion of the common man! Good luck Dilshan. Thank you for your selfless service to SL cricket and above all for the memories! May god be with you!

  • viji1 on September 9, 2016, 10:24 GMT

    Thank you so much for your contribution to Sri Lankan cricket and we thoroughly enjoyed your fire power. Wish you all the best for your future.

  •   Morriszayo on September 9, 2016, 6:50 GMT

    Congrdzzzz,,,,, and a big fan of dili... miss you but the game should move..... i hope Malinga will play today.....

  • anoopkul86 on September 9, 2016, 3:36 GMT

    Congrats to Dilshan for great career.. During 2010s when India used to play Srilanka more oftenly I always feared of Dilshan more than Sanga or Mahela.. such was his mastery that he used to dissmiss bowlers rhythm straight a way.. Well played Dilshan..

  • SarathMendis on September 8, 2016, 22:22 GMT

    It is very sad to here that senior players did not cooperate Dilshan's captaincy. It is obvious any body can see series against Pakistan and England in his time. Best thing is he gave 100% to all other captans. We can remember what happen to Athapattu during the world cup in South Africa. He was heating the bench. Upul Tharanga failed miserably but they never gave a chance to Atahapattu. Hope this will not happen in future. Dilshan can be a good fielding and batting coach for SL cricket. SLC should not forget his talent and experience.

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