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Maiden ton caps off Silva's arduous comeback

After being left out of the Test side in 2011, Kaushal Silva forged a comeback into the Sri Lanka by dint of his runs on the domestic circuit. On Tuesday, he capped off that journey with a memorable maiden Test hundred

Kumar Sangakkara and Kaushal Silva added 155 for the second wicket, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Mirpur, 2nd day, January 28, 2014

Kumar Sangakkara's encouragement eased Kaushal Silva's nerves in the approach to a maiden Test hundred  •  AFP

When Kaushal Silva whipped a long-hop behind square on the leg-side to move into triple figures, he whooped and gesticulated with all the ecstasy a maiden Test hundred often inspires. Almost as soon as the shot was hit, there were celebrations at the other end, too. Kumar Sangakkara held his own arm and bat aloft, not just out of joy for a cricketer who had had the most demanding climb to Test level of all Sri Lanka's batsmen, but satisfied, perhaps, that he had played a vital role in sending Silva into those raptures.
Silva had neared triple figures two weeks ago in Dubai, when he had played the definitive innings in Sri Lanka's consolidation in that match. On that occasion, Mahela Jayawardene was at the other end. Though the two have a history together at the Sinhalese Sports Club, perhaps Jayawardene is too different a player to know what wisdom might have steeled Silva then. Silva's cricket is clean, sharp, methodical; Jayawardene flows like river. On 95, Silva fell to an innocuous ball as he reached for the sweep.
Silva denied he dwelt on Dubai's near miss when he got close in Dhaka, but to the observer, he was a beset by nerves as he moved to the brink of his hundred. Almost immediately after he got to 98, the Bangladesh bowling - which had seemed so friendly so far in the session - suddenly came alive.
Fittingly, Al-Amin Hossain began the 11-ball torment with one that angled into Silva, then jagged away. Silva had edged three similar deliveries from the same bowler earlier in the innings, only for two chances to be spilled and the other to be deemed a Steven Finn-type no-ball - after the bowler's leg dislodged a bail at the non-striker's end. Having lucked his way to the score, perhaps there was doubt in Silva's mind about whether he deserved to cross triple figures on this occasion.
So much about the maiden Test hundred is a statement of belonging - undeniable, numerical proof that a batsman's place at the top level was earned; that he is fit for the purpose for which he was picked. Silva had hit 27 hundreds in first-class cricket before, but at the doorstep of a Test ton, those memories did not appear to soothe him. Often impeccably tight, he was suddenly chasing balls way outside off stump.
Al-Amin beat him another time, with another away-seamer. Smelling blood, Shakib Al Hasan put men around the bat and spun one past his blade as well. All Silva's expectations of himself - the myriad hopes that had sustained him on his arduous journey back to Test cricket after once being let go, now seemed to put fear in his mind and lead in his feet. He had won his way back to the top level with 1753 domestic first-class runs at 79.68 in 2013 - by far the highest tally for a Sri Lankan that year, and the third-highest in the world.
"I first came into the national team in 2011, but on that occasion I could only play three matches and I was left out," Silva said. "After being dropped, I was determined to somehow play for Sri Lanka again. Not only that, I had a hunger to score runs and show who I am - my talents and my ability. In the past, in three matches for Sri Lanka, I couldn't do that. Now I feel I've done that to some extent."
Sangakkara had perished twice in the 90s before he hit his first Test hundred as well, but even without that personal experience, Silva could not have had a better mentor in the middle. Both batsmen have founded success on strong technique, advanced themselves through countless hours in the nets, rather than by the force of innate talent. They depend more on intelligence than instinct, and both also have their fathers to thank for batting mechanics that largely inoculate them against the vagaries of form.
When Al-Amin beat Silva's edge a second time, Sangakkara strode purposefully to the middle, and spoke amiably and earnestly to his partner for at least 20 seconds. At the end of each over, more encouragement came. Perhaps intentionally, Sangakkara strove to keep the strike until Silva's agitation had subsided. He absorbed a full over from Al-Amin, before handing the strike to Silva at spinner's end, which is where the hundred came.
"Kumar and I have been playing each other for about 5-6 years now," Silva said. "When I'm out of form, I go and talk with him and get some advice. It's good to play along with him and get 100 when he's on the other side. I just waited for the bad ball in the end, and that paid off for me."
The wild delight in Silva's celebration was unmissable, but there was also profound relief. The sighing smile went arm-in-arm with the fist pump. When he and Sangakkara walked out at tea having batted a full session together, they bumped fists and tapped bats as is the common routine. But halfway to the boundary, Silva reached up and put his arm around the senior man and spoke his own piece. In a top order populated by natural talents, a kindred spirit had helped Silva realise a memorable professional dream.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here