Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st Test, Galle, 2nd day August 7, 2014

Silva, the businessman, Tharanga, the best friend

Kaushal Silva's meticulousness is evident in his play and his mannerisms, while Upul Tharanga's carefree elegance is like a breath of fresh air, until he gets a little too lazy

Kaushal Silva - short, stocky and square-jawed - is tight but neurotic © AFP

Test openers are a singular breed, they say. They walk in when opponents have a clear advantage. The quicks are fresh and their appetite undiminished. The seam is hard and the pitch, often, soft. It takes a peculiar mix of moxie and masochism to watch a snarling Dale Steyn or a towering Mitchell Johnson bearing down on the crease, smoke pouring off their backs, and still want to be at the other end.

But if they are a singular type, they are not all wearing the same uniform. Not lately anyway. In the last 20 years, Sri Lanka fans have had Sanath Jayasuriya's homespun mayhem and Marvan Atapattu's tempered classicality at either end. Australians have enjoyed Mathew Hayden's swagger and Simon Katich's crab-crawl. Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten, Marcus Trescothick and Michael Atherton - the list goes on.

In this Sri Lanka team, it is not enough to say the openers are two more studies in contrast because, at times, Upul Tharanga and Kaushal Silva are bending space-time to appear in parallel universes.

Silva - short, stocky and square-jawed - is uptight and neurotic. The routine before each ball is precise, drawn out and exhausting. He touches the back pad with his right hand, then draws it up towards him. For about eight seconds he moves the right hand between his hip and the tip of the bat handle, as if he is strumming and tuning an invisible ukulele. Then, looking square at the sticker on the back of his blade he arches his torso backward and stretches his neck, before folding neatly into his stance and tapping his bat thrice. In between all this he is constantly taking guard, both leg and middle, and asking the umpires for the number of balls.

When Silva is opposite Junaid Khan's lolloping skip at the top of his mark, or Morne Morkel's habitual wheelbarrow-circle, the cricketers don't seem to be waging battle for runs and wickets, as much as competing for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder pill prescriptions.

Tharanga - whippet thin, loping, languid - meets you like a cool breeze at the other end. There are no airs to his game, no swagger. Mahela Jayawardene is a little like him in this top order, but even Jayawardene has routines, like always completing a run when he hits a boundary. Tharanga just gazes into the distance and slouches into his stance. He is so sedate sometimes, you wonder if he is asleep. When he lunges lazily at outswingers that all beat the edge, these suspicions are confirmed.

Then out of nowhere, a faultless, flowing cover drive. He does not seem to be hitting the ball so much as asking it out on a date. Sri Lanka fans do not feel anything approaching confidence when anything approaching a good delivery is bowled at Tharanga early in his innings. But if he gets through the first 40 balls, the runs drip from his blade like honey. Balls come with fury at him and go with fury to the fence. What happens in between is delicate, unhurried and delightful.

Three weeks ago, he stroked Steyn, Morkel and Vernon Philander around the park, and then on 83, when he should have been buckling down for a hundred, Tharanga got bored and waltzed past a regulation offbreak from JP Duminy. He had just been given a Test after seven years. He is a professional playing for his country. How does this kind of dismissal even happen?

If he was your friend, he is the kind you go to a bar or sit on the seaside with to shoot the breeze for a few hours. Except, there may not be much talking. Silva, meanwhile, is the business-partner type; the guy you invite around for dinner to impress on your parents you keep sensible, industrious company.

Their batting styles are themselves the story of disparate journeys to the top level. Silva's compactness and precision reflect a lifetime of sweating in the nets with his cricket-coach father, and years of climbing Sri Lanka's arduous domestic staircase. The man had 27 first-class tons before being granted a proper stretch at Test cricket.

Tharanga is eyes, hands and talent, still a little raw after all these years, but blinding when he is at his best. If he bats like he has just woken up on the beach, it is because he spent his youth by the sea. Almost ten years ago, Tharanga finished up a club match for NCC, got on a bus to his hometown of Ambalangoda, and found his family's house, their fishing boats, and their entire neighbourhood, had been washed away in the tsunami. It was Kumar Sangakkara who equipped him with new gear to get him back on the field again.

Tharanga got 19 off 15 balls on day two, as his team strove to reel in a huge Pakistan total. The ball that trapped him in front was a terrific one, jagging back enough to beat the bat, but not enough to miss leg stump, which projections suggest it would have shaved. Silva, meanwhile, edged plenty of deliveries, looked in discomfort against every bowler Pakistan used. Tharanga will feel he was unlucky to get such a good ball. Silva will say it is not luck, but hours of practicing the softening of his grip at the last moment, that allowed all the edges to fall short, and for him to survive until stumps.

Silva has the firmer grip on his place in the team, but as an opener, he is in a fickle trade with a high turnover. Tharanga probably needs runs in the next three innings, or he will be cut loose again. It is up to them to prove their value in the long-term, in a future beyond Sangakkara and Jayawardene. But for now, these two men with the same job, but on wildly different paths are making for fascinating viewing.

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

Comments