Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Colombo, 3rd day November 27, 2012

Samaraweera proves his worth, again

Thilan Samaraweera throughout his cricketing career has proved himself a fighter; more so than any of the decorated men he bats below

One of the most startling stories in Sri Lankan cricket is that of Thilan Samaraweera's machine gun celebration. In Lahore in March 2009, he nestled his bat under his armpit and sprayed pretend bullets out of the handle for the first time in international cricket. He had capered thus many times before in first-class cricket, he says, but as even the old man and his dog have long since taken their leave of domestic cricket in Sri Lanka, only his team-mates and maybe the groundstaff would have witnessed his hijinks before Lahore. As fate would have it, Samaraweera had a bullet travel 12 inches into his thigh the morning after the double-hundred that sparked that celebration.

It is not a celebration he has had chance to bring out yet at the P Sara, for he is still 24 runs adrift of a fifteenth hundred, but it is one he has earnt already in the second Test. It is also a fitting way for Samaraweera to enjoy his milestones, for throughout his cricketing career, but especially in recent years, he has proved himself a fighter. More so than any of the decorated men he bats below.

Tillakaratne Dilshan may man the cannons while Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara command heavy cavalry, but Samaraweera does his work in the trenches. Today, he went to work injured. He split the webbing on his bottom hand attempting a catch at slip on day two, but despite the pain, he has lifted Sri Lanka beyond the follow-on total and have them now striving for a draw or better. No one will say his defiance was pretty - it rarely is - but on a day when Tim Southee had the ball moving as much as it has in this Test so far, and with Trent Boult and Jeetan Patel also threatening, New Zealand will feel they should have had more than 3 wickets in almost 70 overs.

Samaraweera stood with Suraj Randiv for 97 unbeaten runs. Rescuing his side from a mire of the top-order's making is a craft in which his aptitude seemingly increases with each series. In Sri Lanka's most celebrated Test win in recent years at Kingsmead, Samaraweera came to the crease at 84 for 3, then saw Jayawardene depart to leave Sri Lanka 117 for 4, but still managed to wrestle his side to 338 alongside a debutant and the tail to set up the first-innings total that let Sri Lanka establish a large lead. In the next match 98 for 4 was his lot, and he guided Sri Lanka with an unbeaten 115 to at least ensure South Africa would have to bat again, if only for two balls.

At the P Sara, he was the only batsman in Sri Lanka's top six not to be troubled by New Zealand's fast men, and Southee's movement in particular. While others peddled wafts outside the off stump, Samaraweera's judgment was defined by parsimony. Though he left plenty alone, when Southee threatened the stumps, Samaraweera adjusted for the movement and middled almost everything.

Tillakaratne Dilshan may man the cannons while Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara command heavy cavalry, but Samaraweera does his work in the trenches.

It is strange that he is now perhaps Sri Lanka's best batsman against the moving ball. For three years now, his average has been above 50 - the figure which supposedly distinguishes the very good batsmen from merely the good - but Samaraweera has been accused of making cheap runs to qualify. Nothing about his innings at the P Sara was cheap, and those who have watched him bat in the last year can no longer question his true worth to the side. He has overcome that perception, just as he overcame a gunshot wound, and the inability to break into the national side as an offspinner. It should not be forgotten that he was not born with bat in hand. He had taken most of his 357 first class wickets at 23.43 before realising he would not play as a slow bowler in the national side while Muttiah Muralitharan was there, and transformed himself into a Test batsman. The traits that served him on that journey characterise his innings as well.

Sri Lanka's coach, Graham Ford, confirmed after day three's play that Samaraweera was battling through pain in his injured hand, and hoped his fortitude was instructive to the youngsters in Sri Lanka's squad.

"It hasn't been comfortable for him, but it goes to prove how tough the man is both mentally and physically," Ford said. "Sometimes batting is not fun, but lot of hard work. There are lot of players who work really hard and reap the rewards, and Thilan is a fantastic example. Any youngster who is aspiring to play Test cricket needs to have a look and understand that even though it's tough, even though it's painful, you've got to dig deep and fight hard for your team."

Samaraweera has plenty yet to achieve in this match to make Sri Lanka comfortable, and in a few weeks, he will again be tested in Australia, where the improvements to his technique against fast bowling will get a thorough work-out. On Colombo's evidence, his innings' will have to serve as Sri Lanka's ladder out of trouble there as well. He has become his team's man-for-a-crisis, and if Sri Lanka are to fight their way out against New Zealand, and in the ambushes that are to come, you suspect his machine gun will need more use.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • palitha on November 29, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    We love the way you write Andrew. you have a unique style. I am sure many readers will approve of your way of writing. So is Samaraweera. He is a unique cricketer we all Sri Lankan have fallen love with.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2012, 12:30 GMT

    Posted by rnd3 on (November 27 2012, 22:28 PM GMT) @Andrew Fernando, Please write articles with simple English...etc

    The writer might have been bombastic, but certainly not acrimonious to any one, let alone to the readers. Yes, he may fail to connect with a lot of readers. With more experience, he would realize that too.

  • Anver on November 28, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    Stubborn Samaraweera is doing, what "Mr.Reliable" Hashan Tilakerathne did in the past for SL.... whenever SL is in trouble Samare produces that magical innings !!! He richly deserved a ton in this match !!!!

  • Chandima on November 28, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    Good show by S'weera, but very poor by the SL team in general. They must have expected a strong performance by the NZ quicks on SARA pitch, if they learned anything from Galle. It is a very naive performance by the experienced top order to say the least. I'm afraid we don't stand a chance in Australia if they are gonna perform like this.

  • Nilantha on November 28, 2012, 8:14 GMT

    Every team needs a mr dependable when their backs are against the wall and he is ours..,we will miss him when he decides to retire..,

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2012, 6:01 GMT

    for me, Samaraweera has been the best Sri lankan test batsmen for the past 5 yrs. others get all the glory, but they seldom 'fight'.

  • Pad on November 28, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    The day this guy retires is gonna hurt test cricket in Sri Lanka... over the years we always had someone to play slow and build innigs. Gurusinghe and Tilakaratne were great in this job, and Tilan perhaps did it better than both of them. It does not look like we have someone to take over this role.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2012, 3:24 GMT

    Samare is the best batsman in the current SL team no doubt. Way ahead than those so called overrated no.1 test ranked poster boys with fake english accents. He knows his job and gets the job done all the time. Still we keep praising the rubbish.

  • Shamalka on November 28, 2012, 3:23 GMT

    You get through to the Sri Lankan top order and then bowl to Samaraweera forever...You shoot at his legs or hit hard onto his hands until he has to put 3 stitches but still you won't be able to get through the defense of great SamaraWALL!

  • Janaka on November 28, 2012, 2:42 GMT

    A very nice article. It's a great thing that we have Samaraweera in Sri Lankan team...

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