The best bowlers in the world have a way of scrambling young batsmen's brains. In the last English summer, James Anderson eroded Lahiru Thirimanne's game so intensely, it sometimes seemed he only needed to sneeze in Thirimanne's direction to reduce him to dust.

Thirimanne by then was no easy target. This was a man who had won his team an Asia Cup months before, and played crucial innings in a World T20 win - including a top-score in the semi-final. But as Anderson sent poison down that fifth stump line that would later enfeeble Virat Kohli as well, Thirimanne's belief grew frailer and frailer. Sri Lanka persevered with him till the end of the tour but, not long after, he was dropped.

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Nine days after Tim Southee's swing had eviscerated England on the same pitch in Wellington, Thirimanne is crouched and tense as Anderson steams in. The first ball - a short one on the hips - is defused into the leg side.

Anderson himself is not at his best this World Cup. But if there is a top-order batsman in the world he would fancy throwing him a cheap wicket, it would be Thirimanne. Across all internationals, he has had his scalp 10 times. So he begins pushing it across the batsman next over, trialling a variety of lengths, but staying largely on the same line, like a fisherman angling at his lucky spot on the river.

For now, Thirimanne doesn't bite. He is back and across to defend with the full face when Anderson drops short. Forward and across when he is full. For four balls he does this, then something strange happens. Thirimanne is the man suddenly waiting for Anderson to stray. He gets one on the pads. He works it away.

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Daryl Cullinan despises being known as Shane Warne's bunny. For batsmen, being repeatedly dismissed by a bowler is so much worse than simply having a weakness against a particular team. Fans begin to talk about it. Worse, they begin to joke about it. This is the batsman's livelihood. For young cricketers especially, batting is also an integral part of their identity. It cuts close to the bone when you become an incompetent in the public imagination.

There were whispers early in England's ODI tour of Sri Lanka that Moeen Ali's offspin had a hold over Kumar Sangakkara. At this stage of his career, Sangakkara is in no mood to suffer this. He worked the spinner out and top-scored in that series. In the Tests against New Zealand, when suggestions that he was weak against Trent Boult began to emerge, Sangakkara went to the nets again. He would hit a first-innings double ton against New Zealand in the next match.

***

Thirimanne is on strike again as Anderson begins his third over. The ball is full, just wide of off stump again but, once more, Thirimanne has his foot to the pitch of the ball, and this time meets it with a drive. It travels briefly in the air, but it's too straight to interest the mid-off fielder. He gets his first intentional boundary. The belief grows again. There is an ambitious lofted drive two balls later, which fetches the batsman two. Next over Anderson is picked away on the leg side for another couple.

It is in the ninth over - Anderson's fifth - when the battle really begins to turn. Anderson is coming around the wicket now. How many times in his career has he straightened balls down the line to left-handers, and caught them plumb in front? Yet, even with only 13 runs having been scored off his first four overs, he feels the need to change his angle, and virtually rule out a mode of dismissal. The pitch is not helping. The angler is growing impatient.

The first ball is full, wide and juicy - exactly the kind Thirimanne was getting out to at Old Trafford and Edgbaston - but he is on bended knee in Wellington now, creaming this one through a crammed cover field. The shoe is switching feet. The tables are turning. Anderson is under fire now. Thirimanne has got him on his hook.

Four balls later, he pitches one up to Thirimanne again, angling it slightly, hoping to shape it away. Thirimanne batsman sees it is too wide. Out comes the drive again, but this it is an even bolder rendition. He opens the face and cracks it square. It's coming out of the middle. It's scorching a line to the fence. Thirimanne admires the shot, stands tall and looks toward the southern stand. Sri Lankan flags are billowing. Thirimanne is winning this one.

That over, which cost 10, would be the final one in Anderson's spell. Anderson would come back during the Powerplay and almost have Thirimanne caught, but the batsman was already on 98 at that stage. In the end, Anderson would bowl exactly half of his 48 deliveries at Thirimanne, and Thirimanne would hit him for more than a run-a-ball.

Another England tour is scheduled for Sri Lanka in 2016 and Thirimanne will meet his nemesis again. But he has hit a hundred against Anderson now. He is the youngest batsman to make a World Cup hundred for a country that has seen a lot of batting talent bloom at these events. Next time they meet, fans might remember Thirimanne's immense role in this outstanding chase. Next time they meet, no one will be laughing.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando