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The wavering Test trajectory of Dhananjaya de Silva

Dhananjaya de Silva top-edged to the keeper for 173 Associated Press

Fifth ball of his Test career, no runs yet to his name, Dhananjaya de Silva slinked out of his crease, and with a languid swing of the bat, stroked Steve O'Keefe over the long-off boundary. They were spectacular first runs; it would turn out to be a spectacular first series.

Though de Silva made only 24 in that innings, he gathered momentum through the course of Sri Lanka's whitewash over Australia; a rising ocean swell. His 129 in the third Test was a meeting of grace and grit. The score had been 26 for 5, when he arrived at the crease on the first morning. He faced down Australia's rampant bowlers until lunch, then set about unfurling his array of velvet shots. From among Sri Lanka's batsmen, Kusal Mendis had gained the greatest acclaim for his sublime 176 in the first match, but it was de Silva who finished the top scorer across the bowler-dominated series, having hit 325 runs at an average of 65.

Roughly two-and-a half years later, de Silva has played 18 further Tests, but has seen his average almost halve. Touted then as a 10,000-run player, partly because of the ease with which he quelled a ferocious Mitchell Starc, there has been a struggle to live up to that early promise. Not that there haven't been glimpses of brilliance - his second-innings 119 in the pollution-affected game in Delhi, saved that Test, for example. But in between have been: long, dry stretches. Before the Delhi hundred, he had gone 12 innings without a half-century. Last year, he crossed fifty only four times in 19 innings.

If it has baffled fans that a player of such obvious talent has faltered so often, it has been a frustrating journey for de Silva himself as well. A multitude of Sri Lanka players have been mismanaged over the past three years - in which three separate coaches have held the reins, and three different selection committees have stood - but de Silva might plausibly claim to have had the toughest run of things. Shunted from position to position in the batting order, he's played everywhere from No. 3 to No. 9, and has never been persevered with in a single position for more than a handful of innings. Often, he has found himself out of the XI altogether, only to be flung back into a new batting spot whenever an injury or suspension has ruled out one of the others.

There has been no sense of long-term strategy; where with the likes of Mendis, Sri Lanka have taken at least some care to not disturb his development, de Silva has essentially been expendable. Where is the gap in the top order? That is where de Silva bats.

As Sri Lanka now prepare to play Australia again for the first time since de Silva's maiden series, events may have conspired to return de Silva to the batting positions he had excelled in two-and-a-half years ago. He didn't play Sri Lanka's second Test in New Zealand, because typically, he had had a poor outing at No. 3 in the first Test - having received two outstanding deliveries from Tim Southee - and was dropped in favour of Roshen Silva. But now, with Angelo Mathews' fragile hamstring having ruled him out, a middle-order spot is open once more. Though he has most frequently batted at No. 3 - having played 11 of his 41 innings there - it is at No. 6 and 7 that de Silva has clearly had the most success, averaging 45.66 and 43 respectively.

He is an opener at first-class level for Tamil Union Cricket Club (weirdly, opener is the only real batting position Sri Lanka have not trialled de Silva in, despite having struggled to find a partner for Dimuth Karunaratne over the past two years), but in internationals, particularly overseas, where the new ball presents a much sterner challenge, it is possible de Silva's batting is too adventurous for him to succeed in the top order. Lower down, where he can expect to face less swing, particularly from this Australia attack that has recently struggled to take wickets with the older ball, de Silva could find himself in the most suitable batting habitat he has enjoyed in some time.

If he gets to play from the lower-middle order - and although it seems likely, there is no guarantee - de Silva will hope he can defuse Starc and Nathan Lyon as he had done at home. He'll know better than anyone else by now that if he wants to keep his spot, results have to be more or less immediate.