Janaka Malwatta is a poet, doctor and cricket lover who lives in Brisbane. @janakamalwatta
It is almost unimaginable that another Sri Lankan would upstage Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara during their last ODI on home soil. But Tillakaratne Dilshan, the third member of the triumvirate of Sri Lankan ODI greats coming to the end of their splendiferous careers, has done exactly that. With a hundred, three wickets, and a characteristically crackerjack performance in the field, Dilshan showcased his skills across all three disciplines. He is a rare and unrestrained talent.
Dilshan, son of a Malay father and a Sinhalese mother, is another emblem of Sri Lanka's rich and complex ethnic make-up, embodied time and again by the national team. He made his international debut in 1999. It is something of an irony that Dilshan, limited-overs cricketer par excellence, is one of the handful of international cricketers left who made their debut in the days of the unquestioned primacy of Test cricket.
Dilshan's rise to pre-eminence occurred during the middle and later years of his career, and owed much to his move up the batting order in 2009, a full ten years after his debut. He was never entirely convincing as a middle-order bat, but as an opener he has been electrifying, destructive, and feared. He took up where Sanath Jayasuriya left off, and Jayasuriya is the only Sri Lankan ODI opener who could be ranked above him.
Dilshan at the crease is pure theatre. Flamboyant carving off-drives, flaying cuts and, above all, the eponymous Dilscoops, punctuate his innings. The latter is a frighteningly risky shot that requires timing, skill and sheer courage. To go down on one knee to a ball coming at you at 80mph-plus and attempt to scoop it over your head, knowing that if you miss there's a good chance you'll be hit - as Dilshan was in Australia, flush on the helmet - is to demonstrate bravery verging on insanity. It is, perhaps, no surprise that Dilshan invented the shot. Who else would be mad enough?
Dilshan has tempered his all-out attacking style recently, happy to accumulate as well as to blast. He remains, however, the maverick in the pack. With his numerous gold chains and his trademark headscarf, he would not be out of place on the sets of Pirates of the Caribbean, wandering around in the background, casually juggling cutlasses, or rakishly smoking a cigarillo while sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
Dilshan is the ultimate entertainer, the consummate prankster, but he is perhaps too much of a maverick to be a captain. Indeed, his stint as captain was probably not the happiest time of his career. One senses he was a reluctant skipper, and content to hand the reins back to Jayawardene, a seasoned statesman and natural leader.
That episode aside, in the last five years of his career he has established himself as one of the most successful and sought-after ODI cricketers in the world, and a fearsome competitor to boot. He has relished the responsibility of opening the bowling. His fielding defies time. Close-in at point, or on the boundary at the death, Dilshan fields where the action is sharpest, and loses nothing in comparison to team-mates 20 years his junior. I recollect him on the long-on boundary at the Gabba, readying himself for a catch. He had the time, while the ball was flying towards him, to station himself carefully inside the ropes, turn his body sideways and check again that he was within the boundary, before calmly pouching the catch. Without his intervention, the ball would have carried over the ropes. It was a masterful display of technique and temperament.
Like his two long-term team mates Jayawardene and Sangakkara, Dilshan was on the losing side in four successive global finals before the victory in the 2014 World T20 added to an impressive CV. He has over 9000 ODI runs, 5492 Test runs and 138 international wickets. He was the highest scorer in the 2011 World Cup, and the Player of the Series in the 2009 World T20. However, like so many of the game's wondrous talents, Dilshan is not defined by statistics but by the impact he makes on matches, his country, and cricket in general.
At 38, he is in the twilight of his career. If any cricketer could be said to embody the spirit of Dylan Thomas' abjuration to rage, rage against the dying of the light, it is Dilshan. Whatever he has in store for us during the remainder of his career, it is a fair bet he will not go gently into the night.