Prasad 2.0, up and running
Injuries have been a regular occurrence throughout his career, but each time, Prasad has come out stronger. Now fit and firing, he gives Sri Lanka what they have often missed in the recent past - a fast bowler with attitude
Dhammika Prasad is a fast bowler who won his way through to Test level playing most of his cricket at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground. For that alone, he deserves a little respect. If the pitch at the SSC is ever dug up, multiple remains of quick bowlers are sure to be discovered. The other first-class decks on the island are not much better. At 32 years, a hit-the-deck seamer like Prasad should be a fossil. Instead, he is Sri Lanka's top wicket-taker in the series so far.
The thing with Prasad is that he just keeps coming back - on a micro and macro scale. The P Sara pitch had slowed considerably by day four, with the wicketkeeper more often taking balls at knee height than above the waist, as had been the case on the first morning. Yet, it was neither of the spinners, the swing bowler, or the tearaway who regained Sri Lanka's advantage in the match. Pitching it outside off, moving it a little off the seam, Prasad just kept on coming.
The back injuries had laid him low first, but since, there have been hamstring tears, stress complaints, and most recently, a fractured hand which ended a dream of playing in a World Cup. Even before this match, a blow to the thumb had made him an uncertain selection, but he has been the man roughing up batsmen since then.
Each injury has entailed a dip back into first-class circuit. This is not like playing county or shield cricket, where domestic cricketers have generous contracts and benefit seasons. Playing club cricket in Colombo often means working a second job. In the past season, SLC paid cricketers about USD $20 for a day's play - though this sum was usually topped up a little by the club. Prasad spent years in this financial yo-yo, earning more in a week at the top level than he had in the six previous months, then pulling a calf muscle or spraining an ankle to dive right back.
When Prasad smells a wicket, he scares small children from the ground. The whites of his eyes distend and a lunatic's smile cleaves his face in two. When he screams at the umpire, he is appealing for a wicket, but seems more in need of an exorcism
"My injuries were the reason I had to continually leave the team in the past," Prasad said at the close of play on day four. "So I talked with the Sri Lanka physio and trainer and figured out what I had to do to stop getting injured. We did work on that. I improved because I bowled a lot in the nets, working on my bowling fitness. I'm reaping the results of that now, with being able to play for longer."
At a maximum speed in the low-140kph range, Prasad is clearly not a mag-lev train - more the intercity from Colombo into tea country, which has spent years puttering uphill. But the medium pace is assisted by a touch of insanity. When Prasad smells a wicket, he scares small children from the ground. The whites of his eyes distend and a lunatic's smile cleaves his face in two. When he screams at the umpire, he is appealing for a wicket, but seems more in need of an exorcism. He's a rare breed for Sri Lanka: a quick bowler with attitude.
There was a time in his career when Prasad sought out scuffles, even with opposition batsmen who dominated him; when his ego wrote cheques his bowling could not cash. Thankfully, he has mellowed while his skill increased. The wicket of Ahmed Shehzad on day three brought his most lively celebration of the innings. It was joyous, but never malicious, which it sometimes was in the past. The eyes were big and crazy again, but he ran at his teammates, rather than the batsman.
The dismissal of Misbah-ul-Haq was the best of his four wickets. Moving balls away from the batsman repeatedly, Prasad hurried Misbah with an indipper to strike the front pad in front of off stump. There is a chance Prasad was simply a prop in the execution of cricketing justice, here. Misbah has many virtues, but he did request papare band stop playing - an affront to the island's sense of sporting fun the cricket gods surely couldn't leave unpunished. But throughout the day, Prasad had troubled batsmen in that channel. Had Dinesh Chandimal attempted to take the edge off Azhar Ali's bat in the fourth over of the day, Prasad might even have had a five-wicket haul.
Sri Lanka need 153 to win now - no guarantee, given the top order's inexperience, and Yasir Shah's form. But on day four, the heart Prasad put into his work pulled his side ahead again, about a year after his five wickets had helped win a Test at Headingley. A decade of frustration is beginning to pay off.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando