SL need to solve the Perera conundrum

Dilruwan Perera's footwork and intent against spin were top class AFP

"I will do whatever the team needs." It is the most lukewarm answer in cricket. But then, Dilruwan Perera is not a hot-blooded man. If you yelled at him on the street, or cut him off in traffic, he would probably go home and discuss his options with his lawyer.

He's an asset to this team at present - though perhaps not the one they expected him to be. In 2016's mid-year Galle Test, Dilruwan claimed 10 for 99 and sent the match hurtling to a two-and-a-half day finish, striking almighty terror with his slider - a ball that on the surface is as innocuous as he is, yet on that occasion was like a grenade into the opposition dressing room.

Since then, his bowling returns have been more middle-of-the-road than menacing. In seven Tests - five of which have been at home - he has taken 25 wickets at 40.96. In three innings he has gone wicketless, and never has he claimed more than three at a time.

He was the fastest Sri Lanka bowler to 50 Test wickets, so there was hope once that if Rangana Herath ever hangs up his extra-elastic Test kit, here is a willing and ready replacement. There was never Herath's subtlety in Dilruwan's game, but his bowling was not without its own cunning. He didn't size batsmen up as quickly or effectively, but in varying his trajectory, drifting the ball both ways, and never over-using his excellent topspinner, Dilruwan had a drawer-full of traps as well.

Now the wickets have dried up and he is that annoying selection quandary: the cricketer who keeps performing, but not quite in the discipline he was picked for. He claimed 3 for 159 in the lost Test match against Bangladesh in March, but without his second-innings half-century, Sri Lanka would not have stood a chance in the fourth innings of that match. He sent down 54 overs and took only two wickets against Zimbabwe, but if it were not for his 29 not out in the second innings, Sri Lanka may have stumbled to a shock loss in a year full of hands-in-heads defeats.

So what to do? It may be that with his spirited shellacking on the third morning at Galle, he has shown Sri Lanka's selectors what he is good for. Maybe he is not Herath's replacement after all - but a different sort of cricketer altogether. With his adventurous cross-bat shots, and his daring trips down the pitch to the spinners, he has, perhaps unwittingly, suggested he can be a balance-giving allrounder who allows four other bowlers to play. Think of him here as a more smiley, less-bearded Moeen Ali of the East.

A possible criticism is that he has not yet scored runs consistently for long enough. But have any of Sri Lanka's batsmen? And chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya should know Dilruwan's batting pedigree better than most. He opened the batting with him in Dilruwan's ODI debut in 2007 - a lifetime ago.

Moving him up to No. 7 and accommodating a new frontline bowler has several benefits. In the short term, it will see Sri Lanka fill the void left by the injury to Asela Gunaratne. Team management had toyed with playing five frontline bowlers even in the ongoing match, but had decided against it, largely because they expected Gunaratne's offbreaks to be of use. Now, if they merely draft in Dhananjaya de Silva into that vacated spot, they will be lighter on the bowling front than they have already been proven to be in Galle.

If Sri Lanka do not beef up their attack for the second Test at SSC, they will have completely failed to take stock of the current disparity between these teams. In any case, fielders have grassed so many catches in recent months that it is now clear Sri Lanka can't do with an attack that takes less than 30 wickets in a Test.

Maybe they can take a cue too, from their most impressive Test win of the year: against Bangladesh in Galle. On that occasion, Dilruwan had batted at No. 7, and Sri Lanka had won handsomely. Five bowlers will not be required on every pitch, but the three most recent Tests (including the ongoing one) are proof there is a penetration problem. There is an easy fix to this.

"I will do whatever the team needs," was the reply Dilruwan gave when asked if he would be happy with a little extra responsibility with the bat. He doesn't seem the kind to demand to be promoted up the order. But Sri Lanka might do well to put the option to him, so that at least he and his lawyer can mull it over.