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Despite a slow start in Test cricket, Lahiru Thirimanne already looks the most complete of Sri Lanka's young batsmen
Andrew Fidel Fernando in Galle
March 9, 2013
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Matches: Sri Lanka v Bangladesh at Galle
Series/Tournaments: Bangladesh tour of Sri Lanka
Even before he was in Sri Lanka's Under-19s team, Lahiru Thirimanne's batting was surrounded by hype. Former Sri Lanka batsman Aravinda de Silva has been one of his foremost supporters at home. There is even a story going around that it was de Silva who convinced Thirimanne to focus on cricket, after good O-level results had him thinking about putting sport on the backburner.
Yet when he arrived in internationals, there was little in his results to back what de Silva saw. A languid cut and a sharp drive in his first innings revealed a little of his ability but he was also visibly daunted by the England attack, and ended up edging to first slip for 10. There were further glimpses of his class in the second innings but, after being dropped on 13, he did not convey any assurance for the remainder of his stay. Another edge would eventually bring about his demise on 38.
The first seven Tests of his career largely followed this pattern, as he was dropped into the team sporadically whenever injury forced a mainstay out. There were flashes of brilliance, but always in between tentative pushes, over-eager lunges and muddled footwork.
Home or away made little difference. After his seventh Test, against England in Colombo, he averaged less than 20, with one half-century to his name. For many, he was another gifted youngster who couldn't quite cut it at the top level. Sri Lanka's cricket history is littered with players stranded between first-class excellence, and Test-match competence.
But in one innings Thirimanne changed all that. Not initially picked for the Tests in Australia, Thirimanne was flown in after Kumar Sangakkara fractured his finger in Melbourne and was thrown straight into the New Year's Test in Sydney, just 36 hours after landing.
Suddenly he was a man transformed. His judgement was precise, the cover drives commanding, and his body language sure. When he walked to the crease most of the SCG's full house would never have heard of him before. When he exited for a well-played 91, they did not hold back their appreciation, as they rose to applaud him to the pavilion. For the first time, the world saw what de Silva had seen all those years ago.
By his own admission, Thirimanne's challenge in Galle was less arduous than the one he'd faced in Sydney, but he did what any Sri Lanka top-order batsman ought to do on a flat pitch, against a side like Bangladesh. Rarely was a false-stroke drawn from his blade, which came down with equal assurance against the quick men and the spinners.
He constructed his century with maturity, making use of Sangakkara's slipstream early in the second evening, before venturing heavy blows of his own. Often when the bowling deserved punishment, sometimes when it didn't.
|Against Gazi, whose flight is his cudgel, Thirimanne preferred the back foot, and locked away the sweep. To Sunny, whose best asset is turn, he flitted forward to punch down the ground, or clip through midwicket.|
"The 91 in Sydney gave me a lot of confidence," Thirimanne said after his unbeaten 155. "After that innings, I scored a one-day century in Adelaide, and I hope to continue this form for the future. I didn't change much in my technique. It's all about the mindset."
What will encourage his coaches was Thirimanne's ability to assess varying strengths of each bowler, and then adjust his game accordingly. Against Sohag Gazi, whose flight is his cudgel, Thirimanne preferred the back foot, and locked away the sweep. To Elias Sunny, whose best asset is turn, he flitted forward to punch down the ground, or clip through midwicket.
Late on day one, he did not withhold his strokes as the sun-beaten attack waned, and the momentum was with the batsmen. On the second morning, when Bangladesh regrouped to produce their best bowling in the Test, Thirimanne hunkered down till the squall had passed.
Though the boundaries were regular throughout, Thirimanne's innings was largely founded upon the ability to work the ball early in his innings - something his young cohorts are yet to master.
Both Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews rely heavily on boundaries for their runs, and while 36 of Chandimal's fortuitous first fifty came in fours, only five fours were hit in Thirimanne's far more convincing effort. Mathews also suffers from an inability to convert starts into meaningful innings and is noticeably less comfortable against spin. Though he has played fewer Tests, Thirimanne already seems the more complete batsman.
It is also no coincidence that Thirimanne was involved in the two biggest partnerships in the innings. An innate ability to gauge his partner's mood, taking the strike when the other batsman found the going hard, or feeding him it when he looked to push on, saw Thirimanne put on 203 unbeaten runs for the fifth wicket alongside Dinesh Chandimal.
"We've batted together since Under-19s level, so we know how to tackle those situations," he said. "He's a bit more aggressive than me. I had to bat through the innings, so early on I didn't take many risks. Batting with Chandimal was easy because the runs came quickly."
On day one, Sangakkara said it would be healthy for Sri Lanka's young batsmen to compete with each other for runs and hundreds in the years ahead. After a poor start, Thirimanne has found the confidence to make good on his ability in Test cricket, and his young team-mates should take notice, lest they be left in the dust.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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