Sri Lanka news October 10, 2013

An incurable opportunist

Tillakaratne Dilshan's absence will make a young side seem even greener, but what Sri Lanka will miss most about Dilshan is the fire in his bones for seizing the moment, and making it his own

As lights begin to flicker on long international careers, cricketers often begin to behave and speak differently. Young men who started bar fights and smoked pot on tour somehow earn the "elder statesman" tag in their mid-thirties, tired, perhaps, of causing trouble; too wise now to indulge in old habits.

In a dressing room where even the youngsters tend to measure their moves like old men, Tillakaratne Dilshan was wired a different way. Rage was not his vice, though no fielder who ever missed a catch off his bowling ever escaped without a verbal spray. He could be brash, even arrogant, with bat in hand, but there were also innings wrought of genuine caution, and he possessed enough humility to admit when things weren't going well.

He was instead, an addict, of sorts, but it was his great strength as well as a blemish. Whenever there was a chance, no matter how small or unlikely, Dilshan couldn't help but help himself. As he leaves the Test arena now, four days shy of 37, he remains as he always has been: an incurable opportunist.

How else can you explain the vagaries of a career that titillated so frequently but frustrated almost as much? In the year-end tour of Australia last year, Dilshan was at his exuberant best in Hobart, flaying bowlers to the square fence with disdain and driving through cover with equal abandon. Few opportunities to score were missed and even fewer errant balls left unpunished.

But almost two weeks later in Melbourne, a wretched slog across the line to Mitchell Johnson left his stumps splayed and the "that's how I play" defence stretched to snapping point. He had been dismissed playing that stroke so many times in the past two years that it constituted a bona fide technical flaw, which he then claimed to have corrected in practice. But, like a recovering kleptomaniac who relapses every time he sees a bulging wallet, the same shot to the same ball continued to ail him as recently as his last series. Still more like the Artful Dodger, however, he prospered from his habits for so long that he often reasoned he would be a fool to change them.

"I'm not going to change how I play," he said after breaking a recent poor stretch. "If the ball is there to hit - even if it is the first ball - I'm going to hit it."

Though for many, the enduring feature of his cricket is his lust for violence - the manic drive through cover, the irrepressible pull and the dilscoop (a stroke that only an opportunist could design) - his craving to make the most of each possibility pervaded every aspect of his game. When he has bludgeoned an opposition into defence, Dilshan hides the dasher away and squeezes the field for everything it is worth, mining the gaps often and exhaustively. When he strikes a ball well, he instinctively erupts into a run until sense overrides muscle-memory and informs him that a fielder has the ball. The drive to extract the maximum from any situation is written into Dilshan's blood, which might explain why his outlook has been so resistant to change.

He is unique among the seniors in the team, and he can sometimes cut a solitary figure on the field as well. If contributes to an opposition dismissal, Dilshan's is the widest grin and the most vivid celebration, but when others make the breakthrough, he is routinely the last man into the huddle. He might dawdle in halfway, yell out his "well done" and amble back to his station. No one could accuse Dilshan of not being a team man, because the nature of his innings almost always reflected the goals of the collective, but there was also a forceful desire to feature in everything that happens on the field.

He has batted in the top order and the middle. In Tests, he has opened the bowling as well as the batting. He fields at backward point when the battle is thickest there, but ranges the boundary or lurks at long off, if the straight boundary is under threat. He has kept wickets for a whole series too - admirably well for someone with such sparse technique - but of course he appealed every half-chance like a man possessed, just as he does at the bowling crease. Occasionally, he has collected a fine for that as well.

When Sri Lanka's class of '96 appraise the present team, as they are often asked to do in the media, their most persistent criticism is that cricketers have lost the zeal that defined the country's first professional generation. That the loss of Dilshan's experience will make a young side seem even greener is no secret, but what Sri Lanka will miss most about Dilshan is the fire in his bones for seizing the moment, and making it his own.

Fernando: 'Dilshan still had some runs to make in Tests'

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 11, 2013, 3:30 GMT

    He will be missed in test cricket!!

  • Jay on October 10, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    A no nonsense cricketer and match winner !! SL's test team will miss his services. Glad he will continue to play for SL in ODIs and T20s. He forms a formidable partnership with Chris Gayle for Bangalore Royal Challengers and is a class act. I wish him the very best.

  • Lalindra on October 10, 2013, 16:42 GMT

    He might not be as classy as Sanga or have a brilliant cricket brain like Mahela but the enthusiasm he shows one's he get's on the field is tremendous and he's a real competitor.It's unfortunate that he won't be able to take part in the World Test Championship if Sri Lanka get's selected, And he will be leaving behind a big void in the team specially in that opening slot and that cover point area. It's not like when Arjuna or Vaas was retiring, we all knew time was up for those players but for some one like Dilshan you get the feeling he had some more to offer to the Cricketing fraternity as a player...!

  • Steve on October 10, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    With Sanga and Jayawardene soon to following him in test retirement, SL will have a hard time in the longer format. SL has not found good replacements for these giants yet.

  • Venkatesh on October 10, 2013, 12:48 GMT

    He is one of the destructive batsman and almost near to the capacity of shewag while demolishing,demoralising the opponent his confidence very much to go after the opponent bowling right from the it chasing small score or big score..definitely was an great asset to srilankan test cricket...going to miss his coverdrives and pullshots...especially he teared zaheerkhan bowling all around the park ....dishan, stay for another couple of years in ODI cricket....

  • Chatty on October 10, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    It's a great article. Yes, Dilshan was not perfect, but then who is. He was a great asset to the team because he always had the burning desire to win. Dishan is special in many ways. But there are VERY few people in the world who have a stroke named after them. Dilshan is one and therefore he is exceptional.

  • Ray on October 10, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    One of my favourite cricketers although he could be infuriating. One day brilliant, the next day hopeless. Saw him play a great innings (190 odd) at Lords in 2010 Sad to see him go but, at least, he goes out somewhere near to the top.

  • Dhushan on October 10, 2013, 10:45 GMT

    1 of my personal favourite cricketers in the current Sri Lanka team. Very sad to hear about this decision. I'm sure he could have played all 3 formats until the end of the 2015 world cup & then retired. You have done everything our country has asked you of, & you never said no. I'm going to miss the nerves of not knowing what you're going to do next. Please play long in colours. May the Dilscoop live on forever!

  • Dummy4 on October 10, 2013, 10:33 GMT

    Excellently written Andrew! a team man or a man to the fore in almost at every situation when the time was gloomy grey for SL cricket. Inconsistent in many a professional attribute as a cricket but gifted with a witty cricketing brain. To the best of my memory, him running out Murray Goodwin during a test match in Zimbabwe, when he walked out of his crease after the last ball before umpire called it an over, was an show of his character and fighting fire in him to be tuned on at the right time. On the flip side you'd also see the humour in him when he thrre the ball up in the air while he keeping wickets and was engrossed in an appeal to realise the law gravity in the ball landing on his head...while rubbing his head the man continues to appeal for 'out' !! Well thats Dilshan or as we all know him Dili. Fought through from rags to riches of SL cricket and invented shot Diliscoop where bravest would dare to attempt, he is certainly one of kind. Appreciate your service to SL cricket.

  • Dark on October 10, 2013, 8:29 GMT

    Guys, personally I think he is too early to leave test cricket. He has a good 2 or 3 years left in him as a Test player... I can't even imagine who's going to fill his shoes at the highest level! Is it Dimuth Karunaratne? Kaushal Silva? Kusal Perera? none of these players are all rounders... May be Shehan Jayasuriya can be a good option... So far the guy has a good average and a good Strike rate in FC cricket. But can't say the same about this list A & T20s. Great servant of SL cricket and the ONLY captain who managed to rally his troops to win a test in South Africa.. Hats off for a Great Player...