Bandara - the forgotten man
Malinga Bandara burst back into international contention during the second unofficial Test against England, claiming career-best figures in the first innings and finishing with a match haul of 11 for 126. It was an astonishing comeback for a forgotten man.
Bandara departed the scene as quickly as he arrived, debuting against Stephen Fleming's New Zealanders back in 1997/98. With hindsight, his selection as a fresh-faced 18-year-old schoolboy was foolish in the extreme. He failed to take a wicket and was instantly discarded. A few appearances in the A team followed but he was unable to shine and eventually slipped out of the reckoning, into English league cricket.
But, according to Bandara, two seasons with Normandy Cricket Club in the Surrey League provided the career lifeline he needed. He sharpened up his bowling skills, matured as a man and came back to Sri Lanka a far stronger cricketer.
"The last few years I didn't perform well, but going to play in the Surrey League for two years for Normandy CC has helped me improve my cricket overall," said Bandara. "In the past seven years I have learnt a lot from the experience. When I made my Test debut I didn't have any kind of experience at that level. I bowled 21 overs, did not take a wicket for 79 runs and was dropped."
Bandara performed an allrounder's role for Normandy, scoring 575 runs and taking 45 wickets in 2003 and then 525 runs and 43 wickets in 2004. The league is one of the most competitive in the UK with several Surrey players, including the likes of Rikki Clarke and the Bicknell brothers, participating.
His selection in the A team for this series had even raised an eyebrow or two. But although shockingly omitted from the Southern Province side during the recent Provincial Tournament, Sri Lanka's selectors were impressed by his contributions for Galle CC in the domestic club competition, when he took 18 wickets at 23.55 before Christmas.
He proved to be Sri Lanka's outstanding player in the tied Test series against England A, taking 16 wickets and also contributing with scores of 45, 23, and 50. While a place in the national squad may still be a long way off, Upul Chandana, the current No 1 legspinner on the island, will now been feeling new pressure to perform.
Bandara was delighted with his performance, claiming it to be his best in seven year's of first-class cricket: "I bowled a tight line and length and I got my basics right bowling leg spin and googlies. There was a little bit of bounce and a little bit of turn on the wicket, which is good for spin bowlers," said Bandara. "The English batsmen are struggling against leg-spin. They are in two minds when they play leg-spin and I took full advantage of it."