Don't bowl short
If all you knew were averages, you might look at Aravinda de Silva's numbers - 42.97 in Tests and 34.90 in ODIs - and wonder what the fuss is about. So forget the averages. Watch this collection of de Silva's hooks and pulls instead. This is no textbook technique. The way he holds his bat, face open to the bowler, the backlift almost perpendicular to the body (like an over-large table-tennis racquet), it's almost as if he built his whole personality around playing the short ball - something he would have often had to do as a five-foot-two-inch batsman. There's a homespun imprecision to the set-up and foot movement. But then a genius and a swagger to the execution - that front leg swinging around like a gate caught in a gust. Like all great players of the hook and pull, he could just as easily thump you straight of midwicket as flick you fine of fine leg. All this without a grille on his helmet.
The stereotype about South Asian batsmen is that they are typically not good players of the short ball, but Sri Lanka have actually had quite a few exemplary pullers: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews, to name just three who have been active in the last decade. No one, though, was capable of playing devastating pull shots to a range of deliveries quite how de Silva managed. He would fetch them from way outside off stump and blast them into the stands, or pick them up from just about knee height and whip them flat over square leg. There were times in his career where he would repeatedly be out playing far too aggressively early in his innings. But on good days, no one was more imperious.
Those World Cup innings
You knew these were coming, right? No appreciation of the man is complete without what is arguably the greatest performance in knockouts across all World Cups. In the semi-final against India in 1996, de Silva played the kind of innings only he could really even conceive, let alone execute. Coming in with the score 1 for 2 in the first over, both vaunted openers back in the dressing room and 100,000 India fans in full voice, de Silva unleashed a counterattack of rare venom and majesty. He had switched to a heavy bat midway through the tournament, and just watch the square drives and flicks off his pads here, and how the ball basically explodes off the bat. He made 66 off 47 balls, and set Sri Lanka on track to what proved a comfortably winning total.
The 107 in the final was a masterclass in driving. De Silva could drive anywhere from backward point to straight midwicket, and he showcased almost that entire spectrum of strokes during this innings. Additionally, there were his three wickets and two catches to help restrict Australia to 241 (The ripping offbreak to bowl Ricky Ponting was a particular highlight). There's a genuine argument to be had over whether his performance in the field was even more consequential to Sri Lanka's win than his century.
The mind-bending shots
Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya are Sri Lanka's patron saints of outrageous six-hitting, but de Silva wasn't far behind. Just check out these hits off Brett Lee at the 2003 World Cup - right at the end of de Silva's career. Or this advancing inside-out strike against Geoff Lawson.
Thankfully there is a compilation of de Silva sixes on YouTube. Unfortunately it's a potato-quality clip.
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