July 22, 2002

De Silva blazes double ton as Sri Lanka pile on the runs

Some of his team-mates may have squandered their chances of boosting their Test averages against the world's weakest bowling attack, but Aravinda de Silva's experience insured that he cashed in on a perfect opportunity to show the Sri Lankan selectors that his desire remains undiminished.

The 36-year-old, playing his 19th year of international cricket, had been expected to retire after Sri Lanka's disastrous tour of England. However, his experience on that tour, after a year in which his famously shabby pads had languished in the cupboard unused, has stirred his appetite for international cricket.

And here, in front of a smattering of adoring supporters and four ponies chewing contentedly on a grass bank, he rescued Sri Lanka from the embarrassment of an early collapse by scoring 206, his 20th Test century and only his second double century in a 93 match career.

With support from Kumar Sangakkara (75), who passed fifty for the first time since the Asian Test Championship final in March, and captain Sanath Jayasuriya (145), who scored his tenth Test century in the unfamiliar number six position, De Silva ensured that Sri Lanka had established an impregnable position by the close of day two.

Sri Lanka scored a remarkable 509 runs in the day, the highest aggregate by a team in a single day after the 503 scored by England against South Africa at Lord's in 1924, finishing the day with a 348 run lead which, in all probability, insures a three day finish tomorrow. An overnight declaration can be expected.

De Silva, speaking afterwards, said: "This was an opportunity for me to get some runs but, most importantly, to prove my fitness. When I went in I had to consolidate but after reaching my hundred I relaxed and treated it as a fitness test."

He's happy with his game: "I know my strengths now and I'm much more confident when I go into bat than I was ten years ago. I feel that I can take control of any situation, pulling the side out of difficult situations. As long as I feel hungry, I will continue playing."

And he also announced his desire to reclaim his place in the one-day team: "If the team needs me I am looking forward to playing as many games as possible. I really enjoy one-day cricket and if I get the opportunity I will see how much fitness work I have to do to get into top shape."

Whilst the run spree may have expected, Sri Lanka's morning collapse was not. Marvan Atapattu (20), Russel Arnold (25) and Mahela Jayawardene (0) all fell cheaply as 16-year-old medium pacer Talha Jubair and 21-year-old Manjural Islam swung the ball after an early start. Sri Lanka slipped to 56 for three.

But Sangakkara, relieved of the wicket-keeping duties, and De Silva soon counter attacked, scoring a run a ball against the Bangladeshi medium pacers. Sangakkara was first to his fifty, the eighth of his career, having faced 55 balls. De Silva completed his soon after from 63 balls and Sri Lanka went into lunch on 184 for four.

After the break, De Silva pressed down on the accelerator, unveiling his wide array of shots: the swivel pull, his signature shot, was employed whenever the medium pacers dropped marginally short, and when they strayed on to his pads, they were mercilessly clipped through the leg-side.

Left-arm spinner Enamul Haque, 36, proved the most economical of the bowlers, claiming four for 144 from 38 overs, but he too was punished as De Silva danced down the wicket, lofting over the top and through the covers.

Bangladesh's only success of the afternoon came when Sangakkara was fortuitously run out, slipping as he turned for a third. It ended a 150 stand for the fourth wicket and brought Jayasuriya to the crease.

By now though De Silva was motoring. Reaching his century from 136 balls he then scorched to 150 off another 36 and brought up his double century off 234 balls, the fifth fastest double ton of all-time.

Jayasuriya was pedestrian by comparison, wary of his recent poor form in Test cricket. But gradually he settled, reaching his fifty shortly before the tea break. Afterwards, he blazed away, racing to his century and onwards, hitting six sixes in all.

De Silva finally fell as he tried to reverse sweep Haque, but Jayasuriya was reluctant to declare, even after he spiralled a catch into the outfield, as the poor light would have cut short the Bangladeshi second innings.