Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, 1st Test, Galle March 6, 2017

Can Kusal, Dhananjaya build on early promise?

Sri Lanka's history is replete with several batsmen falling by the wayside after promising starts. In it are valuable lessons for two promising batsmen from the current crop
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Kusal Mendis' 176 against Australia was one of the best knocks by a Sri Lankan batsman in recent times © AFP

Upul Tharanga was once the future. He stood tall and tranquil at the crease, had shots through the offside so beautiful that entire stadiums bawled when he drove, and he had the Kumar Sangakkara stamp of approval.

Eventually, though, oppositions began to study him. A technical flaw to the angled ball outside off stump was exposed. For entire series, Tharanga became like an usher at a film theatre, forever directing the ball to its proper place in the hands of slip. He was dropped when he went 14 innings without a fifty, and would not play Tests again for another seven years.

There have been some valuable contributions in his stuttered second coming, but where - if talent was the only consideration - Tharanga should have about 100 Tests on his timesheet, and close to 10,000 runs to his name, he finds himself asked to open the batting again, and at 32, still needing to prove his worth.

Cautionary tale number one.

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Lahiru Thirimanne was once the future. He has the temperament of a monk, senior teammates said, and well, just look at that bent-kneed cover drive. There was an attractive 91 at an SCG Test. He floated through heartening ODI hundreds as well. Throughout, he had the backing of men like Aravinda de Silva.

But then, eventually, oppositions began to study him. Questions were asked of his technique. That iron temperament was put to the Test, and through late 2015, and the first half of 2016, Thirimanne became a global leader in tortured innings and low scores. He now finds himself out of the team and as yet unable to make a case for reintegration into international cricket.

Cautionary tale number two.

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Kaushal Silva was once the future. No one had laboured so much to gain a Test place, and in an age where Sri Lanka batsmen were thought to play too many strokes, his stoicism was much regarded. He gritted his way to a good 95 in Dubai, and hit important twin fifties at Lord's.

Then opposition attacks came for him, and he went meekly with them into a long lull. Occasionally there would be another of those gutsy big scores, but these were infrequent, and his average was in retreat. At 30, he is now dropped from the Test team, not even an A team position thrown his way in compensation.

Cautionary tale number three.

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Dinesh Chandimal was once the future. He didn't quite have the classical sensibilities of other young batsmen, but here is a man who has found a homespun technique that works for him, you thought. He bashed his way to encouraging overseas fifties and threw his every atom into the sweep shot at home. Along the way, he played some transcendental innings, became T20 captain, and made the populist decision to forego the IPL to work on his batting at home.

But then, of course: that familiar stagnation. He struggled with the bouncer in 2014, and was packed off to the Sri Lanka A team in the middle of a Test tour. He has been jerked around the batting order as well, and found himself often accused of surrendering his wicket without a fight.

He may yet have an outstanding career, but what is clear is that despite his blinding talent, international batsmen his age have leapfrogged him. At 27, he could be part of the Kohli-Root-Williamson-Smith conversation, yet instead he has recently been told by the chief selector to go back to club cricket in order to rediscover form.

Cautionary tale (sort of) number four.

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Two young batsmen in the Sri Lanka squad find themselves at the end of the first portion of this well-trod journey. At 22, Kusal Mendis has hit one of the great Sri Lankan innings, batted with rare freedom on away tours, and has been the primary driver of optimism for fans of Sri Lanka. At 25, Dhananjaya de Silva was the best batsman in a famous victory over Australia, and has tamed Mitchell Starc as well as anyone in international cricket has recently managed.

Both have potential, but are coming off a tough series against South Africa, and in any case, have not found the consistency that will see them regarded among the world's best.

Their coaches can teach them plenty. They'll learn from repeated exposure to the world's best bowlers, from playing in the planet's most vaunted venues, and from doing battle in matches that are intense as they come. For some lessons though, they need not look much further than their own dressing room. Having talent is fine, but to harness it: that is the thing.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SL_Fan_5 on March 7, 2017, 3:45 GMT

    Love the article... hope these guys read it and continuously try to improve their game. It definitely is a journey and players need to continuously out smart oppositions. Need 2-3 world class batsmen, Angelo is one, who's going to be the others.

  • Indyopc on March 7, 2017, 3:41 GMT

    MANAGEMENT!!!MANAGEMENT!!MANAGEMENT!!! This is what is lacking at the moment.Once SLC identifies a talent and draft them in to the Big arena, they will have to find a way to protect them for the future.The investment made by the board as well as the player to reach that position need to be considered intensively and make proper plans to guide them through their bad patches. Remember most of the present crop of cricketers do not have the proper guidance to handle the next stage of the carrier alone.So SLC should invest on someone who can guide them to that next level.A good motivator who can be with the boys and help them when ever they lack self confidence etc. I can remember once we had Dr. Rudy Webster (Who was the psychologist for the West Indies Team in the 80's) coming in and mentoring our then cricketers as well. But we need some one permanently to be with the team who can help the players when they go through a tough time. Over to you SLC, if you are serious about the future.

  • Grasian on March 7, 2017, 3:27 GMT

    I don't think Kaushal Silva was ever the next big hope, more of a journeyman keeper who did well to turn himself into a decent opener. This is not to be critical as players with limited ability, like Thilan Samaraweera, work that much harder to be successful. There are many reasons for players not fulfilling their potential, but a big one is the lack of half decent domestic cricket when they are out of form or need to rework their game. The technical decline of Karunaratne since his 150 in NZ is especially worrying. The team has specialist bowling and fielding coaches but no batting consultant.

  • cricfan76793908 on March 7, 2017, 2:16 GMT

    @HERATH-UK There is a good point in HERATH-UK's post.

    Additionally, another blunder the selectors had done was, appointing the new comers as Vice captain when they just started flourish in the international cricket. Examples were, Lahiru Thirimane and Chandimal.

    It was bit of drama and look odd, when they switch Chandimal & Thirimane as ODI/TEST V. captain and T20 Captain.

    Hope it would not happen to the current young folks.

  • Cricinfouser on March 6, 2017, 23:37 GMT

    Players should play naturally. Thats how Arvinda, Sanath, Arjuna, Sanga erc came. If you try to change their technique like Tendulkar, they can't perform. Ex: Steven Smith is

  • Richie_J on March 6, 2017, 21:34 GMT

    Just want to reiterate something which I posted on a different page a few days ago. While players should take responsibility for their performance, questions have to be asked about how some of these players are being managed. Why do selectors think all players are capable of playing all three formats the moment they earn a man of the match performance in any game. Why is Asela included in this test side? Shouldn't he be groomed as a limited over specialist? Why was Kusal and Dhananjaya put into a T20 side and asked to bash around and made to fail miserably and are now totally under pressure to hold their place in the test squad. Shouldn't they been groomed as test middle order specialist and maybe in the 50 over game. Unless you have players in the caliber of kohli or de villiers you cannot just expect them perform in all three formats. To turn players into this calibre you need to groom them for a few years in ideally one if not two format only and then they can play all formats.

  • JKSFB on March 6, 2017, 20:56 GMT

    Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya are both classy young players who are a cut above the others mentioned in this article. Although the point is well made, the fact is that none of the others were as rounded as Kusal and Dhananjaya. Kaushal and Thirimanne were/are clearly not cut out for T20 and may be even ODI in case of Kaushal. As for Tharanga and Chandimal, they are both quick scoring aggresive batsmen more suited to shorter formats of the game. If you see, their good test performances are against teams with limited fast bowling (e.g. Chandimal vs. India). I think is great that Kusal and Dhananjaya just completed a tough SA tour so early in their career. Things will only get easier from here....

  • crzcric on March 6, 2017, 19:01 GMT

    This is something people hardly talk. As some people mentioned here SLC lacks identifying player's strengths and weaknesses. Specially identifying players' caliber. Not every player can be successful in all 3 formats, but they can provide big contributions for their specialized formats. Even for the selections some-players picked for the squad from just one good knock in domestic or SL A matches. Sometime after one or two good international knock and suddenly they have been thrown to play all three formats. Mendis and Dhanajaya were the latest victims. Where is the part of identifying a player's consistency?? Do they even consider players' Averages and Strike rates to decide what formats they should play. Recently SLC hired performance manager also. Isn't this his job?? And the other thing is today with a lot of media and fans naming some players as next sanga or mahela and giving the additional pressure. Why not let them make their own name??

  • amuni12 on March 6, 2017, 18:34 GMT

    A really nice article. Hopefully, our young talented players take a note of this article. SL Cricket is to be blamed to a certain degree. They need to identify players for different formats and groom them accordingly. Throwing some of these talented rising young crew into all formats will no doubt destroy their confidence if they fail to produce. I think neither Mendis nor De Silva is ready for all formats at this time. There are few who demonstrated that they can play all formats; like Sanga, Mahela, Angelo and Dilshan. Sometimes the player temperament and adjusting to different formats takes longer periods.

  • Deepfreezed on March 6, 2017, 15:12 GMT

    Kusal Mendis absolutely needs a big innings or string of solid innings. If not, he will gets packed off soon. There are too many batters waiting in the wings right now for a chance. I am not sure about Dhananjaya de Silva, his time maybe already up. Not sure what he can do at 7 other than score a 30 and get out or score a 40 and run out of partners.

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