Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval, 2nd day August 4, 2010

Unsung Samaraweera anchors Sri Lanka

Thilain Samaraweera's innings wasn't captivating, but he handled the spinners effectively and carried the batting after the stars departed after starts

Thilan Samaraweera's record, his average of 53.34, is often seen with an asterisk next to it. Only one of his 12 centuries has been scored out of the subcontinent. He usually seems to be one of three or four centurions in an innings. Except for the centuries in Faisalabad when he came in at 9 for 3, and at Queen's Park Oval when he scored a second-innings 125 from 35 for 4, Samaraweera is usually perceived to be one who capitalises on bowlers tired down by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene or blasted by Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Some even call Samaraweera a boring batsman. While it is unfair to call Samaraweera boring, that defining innings is indeed missing. This unbeaten 137 was not that innings, but it was halfway there. And despite a strike-rate of 47.56, which is considered slow in today's cricket, this wasn't boring. The way he handled the spinners on a responsive pitch was anything but.

This wasn't an easy century. It came when, for the first time on this tour, no Sri Lankan batsman had dominated the Indian bowlers enough. Sangakkara had, but he threw it away without finishing the job. The pitch was taking turn when Samaraweera came in at 157 for 3, Pragyan Ojha was bowling a good spell, and Jayawardene wasn't exactly comfortable. So he had to contend with bowlers who had their best first day of the tour, bowlers who for the first time sensed they could keep an innings century-less.

Jayawardene soon got out, and Samaraweera, almost unnoticed, reached his fifty by stumps. Ojha said after the day's play that he was getting appreciable turn, and if the batsmen pushed forward blindly he thought he had a chance. Samaraweera doesn't push forward blindly. Although his first movement is forward, but he is adept at moving back swiftly or reaching the pitch of the ball to play either a defensive or a forceful stroke.

Samaraweera hardly ever misjudged the length, and when he did his soft hands ensured the edge didn't carry. His comfort at the crease contrasted with that shown by Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene.

Ojha was difficult to negotiate in a 13-over spell of 19 runs and two wickets before lunch. The tail was in. Samaraweera shielded them after Suraj Randiv got out slog-sweeping and Lasith Malinga didn't stay long enough to be shielded. With Mendis, who is not one who can be expected to hold one end up, Samaraweera's partnership lasted 13.4 overs, adding 35 crucial runs, out of which Mendis scored 3.

"The thought process then was that I had to bat through Ojha," Samaraweera said. "Mendis told me he was a little difficult to handle, that was the reason [for refusing singles]."

While Samaraweera kept refusing singles, his lack of power showed. He was buying time, but not actually hurting India. Gaps existed, but for across-the-line shots. Samaraweera, though, relied on the more orthodox ones, making room and cutting late, and exploiting the square field. He punished any slight error in length. He managed a slog-sweep off Amit Mishra, and couple of chips over extra cover off Ojha, but immediately after Mendis and Chanaka Welegedara got out in the same over.

By then Samaraweera had taken Sri Lanka to a healthy total. "I have got some hundreds at crucial moments," Samaraweera said. "When top order has not scored runs. Against Pakistan we were 9 for 3, I got a hundred and against Bangladesh we were 20 for 4. I don't think I have got [all the] runs when the top order has scored runs. I have scored runs when they were important for the team. But this is a special one because this is a real Test wicket. Your skills are tested here unlike in SSC. I am happy to get a hundred here."

It wasn't an innings that grabbed you by the throat and asked you to watch. It wasn't one that came in a dire situation. But it came at a time when it could have all gone wrong for Sri Lanka. It came on a pitch where it wasn't difficult to look unattractive. Neither happened. Sri Lanka can thank Samaraweera for that.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 18:32 GMT

    @ randikaayya : wel if he doesn get enuf chances , lets wait til he gets enough and proves himself. And then we shall sing along wit you for s'weera.. Much of his success was attirbuted to sanga or mahela and off late dilshan... Except few occasions he has never been tested with neither fiery bowling attack nor in a pressure situation.. Even western countries dint get much to play on sri lanka.. Remeber Ponting bagged man of the series in srilanka in '99 as well as lehman, langer,haydos whitewashed srilanka in srilanka... Lets not forget lara's 633 agg.. If you consider him as a class player, he must play when the team needs the most.. that's hw cha'paul, dravid, vvs are remembered.. Its not the aggregate... its the no of valuable knocks... i never meant to be rude on my comments towards s'weera.. We all agree the way entire sl team shaped up after the attack in pakistan... But lets wait for sum more time before makin him as a greats of cricket

  • Vineesh on August 5, 2010, 13:08 GMT

    What should we sing, that Samarweera can bat only on SL wickets. For a change he did score a 100 at Kanpur against India in the second test in a losing cause.

    But otherwise, there shouldnt be much of a surprise, if he is still unsung. It is so surprising to note that why do we go on singing unworthy glory for players who do not deserve half of that. Players like J'wardane, S'weera who make runs only in their home conditions. What should be so surprising for them in India that they cant make runs.That is a very poor sign of temperament when they cannot support thier team an inch in conditions 'they do not like'.

  • Randika on August 5, 2010, 6:31 GMT

    @Kamal Kannan: Your analysis of a fighting batsman is unfair mate. Given more chances he will prove his metal in any part of the world. And why shouldn't they (sub-continent players) perform better at home than outside?? Can you point out players from Australia, England SA who have performed better in Asia than outside? Just because Asia is teeming with batting talent and they perform better at home, it doesn't give you an excuse to ridicule them with half-formed arguments showing only part of the picture. cheers!

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 6:26 GMT

    So checking the stats, it seems he has played 12 tests outside the subcontinent and 48 in. Sanga did point out that they have a serious lack of tests being played outside the subcontinent anyway. The man has picked up one century in 12 matches, so its not all that bad going. You have to give him a few more chances, you can't judge off just 12 appearances. Besides, IIRC, he was bought into the team as an off-spinner initially, not a bat. Seems to have stopped bowling and taken more to batting around 2004. Wise move considering trying to be an off-spinner in the side featuring Murali isn't really a recipe for a stable spot on the team.

  • Rogue777 on August 5, 2010, 3:45 GMT

    Yes I also want Sri Lankans to score more 100s in SA; Aus and Eng. So please give us more matches 4 and 5 test series in those countries!

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 3:26 GMT

    Samaraweera is an excellent batsman n true he is underrated by many.. He may not have scored many runs outside the subcontinent but its not like Sri Lanka gets the opportunity to play many tests outside its own backyard.. Its not easy to visit England or Australia once every 2 or 3 years for 1 or 2 tests n be to score.. especially since he s not a regular one day player.. Its good that Sri Lanka have such a solid player to back up the extravagance of sanga, mahela n dilshan..

  • Avenash on August 5, 2010, 1:54 GMT

    Thilan is a very good batsman...more in the Chanderpaul/Dravid mode, but if he wants to be considered world-class, more centuries have to be scored outside the subcontinent...

  • Manasvi on August 4, 2010, 16:28 GMT

    Of Samaraweera's 12, only a few came in trying circumstances. And what is more, one of them came against a very weak team, the West Indies. Thus, he has a long way to go before he can be counted as being of the caliber of de Silva, Jayawardene and Sangakkara.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2010, 16:18 GMT

    I'd rather happy to c samaraweera's statistics outside sub-continent... Its hard to understand how these ppl topped ICC ranking without establishing themselves much in australia or south africa or england... Lions in asia but lambs outside...

  • Augustus on August 4, 2010, 15:33 GMT

    The article is rather subtle.It doesn't say outright, but it hints that Samaraweera is boring. (Boycott, Gavaskar,Artherton etc now they were b...) Its not a nice way to describe a fighter and a man with a very keen acumen for reading a situation and playing on merit. If you say he is boring then by those same standards Mahela Jayawardene is also boring and Sangakarra, Dravid,Chanderpaul etc. arent race horses either. As for the 12 centuries outside the S continent check out Mahela's average outside SL. Its not imperssive either. Its easy to pick on Samaraweera, but the fact is that he has often anchored the SL test team. In the ongoing match SL would not even have reached 300 but for his efforts. The guts he showed in coming back to cricket so soon after being seriously hurt in the terror attack in Pakistan shows great spirit and determination. Its the same with his batting. Spirited and determined, not boring. And oh! they are not the same thing.

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