There was an age in Sri Lanka when everyone from captain to commoners summoned the notion of a "Sri Lankan brand of cricket". Its definition would change from series to series and from one leader to the next. For some, it was a batting strategy founded on unfettered strokeplay. For others, the singularity of a varied and vibrant attack capable of contriving dismissals at unlikely times, in unusual quantities. On occasion, it was the ability to rally in the field, and launch a fierce offence on the back of a single, sprawling save.
Like most things in the country's cricket, though, the "Sri Lankan brand" has its roots in the 1996 World Cup. It was there that Sri Lanka's modern sporting identity was born, and it is the benchmark every ODI side from Sri Lanka strives to achieve. Back then, the "Sri Lankan brand" meant two things: a breakneck start and fearlessness.
Against Bangladesh in Hambantota, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kushal Janith Perera tore open a portal to that past. The first ball, short and wide, scorched a trail through cover point. Next over, the batsmen hit four fours, and upon mistiming one that was hauled in just short of the rope, Dilshan kicked himself for failing to make it five. In 4.1 overs Sri Lanka clocked fifty with ten boundaries having been struck. The openers had been made to sit around for 85 minutes while engineers scrambled to get the floodlights back on, but when the batsmen finally took guard, they batted as if they expected the power to give out again any second.
That, between Dilshan and Perera, Sri Lanka possess all the attributes of the opening pair that revolutionised the format will not have been lost on Sri Lanka fans. There is a wicketkeeper-batsman, a leftie-rightie combination, a slow-bowling marauder and two ex-middle order men booted up the order. The components might be spread somewhat differently, but they're all still there.
What's more, Perera can hardly have adopted Jayasuriya's homespun technique more completely - the short-arm jab, the brutal bottom-hand, the punishing square blows. Only, Perera is a little more lightening than thunder. Swift bat-speed substitutes for bulging forearms, and fleet of foot for extraordinary hand-eye coordination. Jayasuriya bullied plenty to the fence through sheer power, but he can rarely have used the forward press as well as Perera did in the sixth over, when he rocked back to send Abdul Razzak screaming through the off side.
"It was a good opportunity to give a young player a go, and out of the openers I've batted with, I feel like Kushal will be valuable for the team in the years to come," Dilshan said after the match. "He hit the ball without making anything complicated, and that made it easy for me as well. That kind of start is terrific. When a new player bats like that, I feel that he will play for Sri Lanka for a long time."
By the end of the mandatory Powerplay, curtailed though it was, Sri Lanka had effectively made the result a formality. Their opponents' effort had not been encouraging to begin with, but it sagged a little more with each new act of violence, and when it suited Sri Lanka to wind down the assault at 83 for 0 after eight overs, they had bloodied the visitors to a mental state from which a recovery seemed unthinkable. Seventeen years ago, Sri Lanka knew the value of an early blitz better than anyone, and with two hyper-aggressive men in the vanguard again, they may find themselves retreading the paths cleared by the 1996 pioneers.
"The way these two guys batted, the Bangladesh bowling looked ordinary," captain Angelo Mathews said. "They actually demolished the bowling attack, which happens. Any attack can fall apart when these guys bat like that - especially Dilshan. The opening stand was vital for us. After that start I thought, 'We can't lose from here.'
"They put the team in control. We are in a transition period and it's always better to find a good youngster like Kushal who is fearless and who wants to attack all the time."
Though Perera's refusal to compromise on belligerence at the top level has brought his demise on several occasions already, mammoth first-class scores suggest he is possessed of astute judgement and a firm defence too. In his last three domestic matches, Perera has hit 203, 97, and a 336 from 275 deliveries. His time behind the stumps in Australia revealed him to be a sharp keeper as well, and given Chandimal's importance to the side as a batsman, Perera's second talent may be called upon in the years to come.
Sri Lanka will face far sterner limited-overs challenges than Bangladesh at home but a stunning start in Hambantota, which harked back to years gone by, may light the path ahead as well.