Sri Lankan cricket is going nowhere. It is past its best. One series after another, it is becoming ever so similar to that patient who’s on the ventilator. There’s no hope, whatsoever, now. Heard that before? How often? Probably too often in the recent past, right!
Sri Lankan cricket might be past its best, but all hope is not lost. With every passing series, there comes a glinting indication of why it could be better. But this is possible only if you are mindful of talents like Wanindu Hasaranga.
At 24 in cricket, you are either a new kid on the block with a starter-pack like features such as talent, skill, appetite for long-term sustenance or someone who will take his own sweet time to show glimpse of the big match potential.
Though, if you are Wanindu Hasaranga, then 24 is an age where you already have announced yourself to the world.
Hasaranga’s impressive introduction to international cricket
Even before the world came to be recognized as a pre and post COVID world, Hasaranga, then only 22, came down crashing on a heavy-duty Windies side visiting Sri Lanka. In his maiden ODI appearance against Hope, Holder, Bravo, Chase, and Pollard-led side, he starred in a nail-biting 1-wicket win.
His contributions? Most maidens in a match that asked his team to chase down 290: two.
Then came an unbeaten 42 off 39, at a strike rate of 107.
Was that all?
Well, Wanindu Hasaranga was only getting started.
In the next game, where Sri Lanka inflicted the highest margin of defeat over the Windies, winning by 161 runs, it was Hasaranga who broke the middle order of the team tasked with chasing no fewer than 346.
While Darren Bravo skied an unreadable leg break, Holder and Hope simply failed to read his googly, the stock delivery of Wanindu Hasaranga, which, in lethality, is akin to Malinga’s yorker or Ashwin’s top spin.
There are things you can read. There are things you simply can’t. And in a very young career that’s represented Sri Lanka only on 50 international appearances, Wanindu Hasaranga has already authored non-decodable mysteries much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock detective mysteries that are difficult for the batsmen to gauge.
Someone not afraid to flight the deliveries, Hasaranga’s beauty stems from the fact that he puts a tight lid on the scoring.
Bend in like Beckham is what they were saying over a decade and a half ago in the realm of football, but perhaps Sri Lankan cricket has found its own new narrative.
Hasaranga scripting a revival for Sri Lankan cricket
Despite not being the kind of bowler yet who you’d task with opening the attack, much like an Imran Tahir opening the proceedings for the Proteas in several T20Is, Wanindu must surely earn the sobriquet of “bowl the dot ball” Hasaranga.
62 wickets from 51 internationals already, the Galle-born is scripting a revival for Sri Lankan cricket, if not a comeback as yet, for the latter needs several forces to strike in unison.
This was evident long before the heartbreaking losses such as the ODI series loss to India and humiliating defeats to England occurred.
A year and a half ago, they whitewashed the then Pollard-led side in the 3 50-over games.
In an age where powerful stroke play is so increasingly defining the sport, where batsmen are becoming less agricultural- and more wham-bam- Hasaranga is a distinct anomaly in the system.
A clever cricketer keen to exploit the batsmen’s weaknesses, he’s a thinking cricketer in an age of irrational exuberance.
Moreover, he rounds up as a safe pair of hands, whether in the outfield or the short cover and point regions, where he’s stationed in white-ball cricket, there’s always more to Hasaranga.
Hasaranga’s key role in Sri Lanka’s victory over India in 2nd ODI
For instance, in the second ODI at Colombo against a Rahul Dravid-coached India, his 3 for 37 off 10 overs earned Sri Lanka their solitary ODI triumph after being routed by what was called a ‘second string’ team at home.
The only competitive game besides the rain-assisted D/L-intervening 3rd game, where Sri Lanka all but clinched the win, it was Hasaranga who broke the back of the Indian top order, first disturbing the stumps of Shaw, before dismissing Indian skipper Dhawan.
Later, Krunal Pandya, whose 35 off 54 was already threatening to take the game away before Chahar arrived to play his match-winning knock, it was Hasaranga again with the magic with the ball as he clean bowled the left-hander.
Where Rajitha and Chameera, front-line medium pacers failed to curb the Indian batsmen, Hasaranga chipped in nearly derailing the run-chase.
Hasaranga will only get better with time
Above anything, the interest surrounding Hasaranga, who’s recently been picked by RCB, stems from the fact that he hails from the land that’s birthed Murali, Mendis and Herath.
That he can do something neither of these three iconic spinners did- hit the ball a long way and fervently, as determined by his white-ball strike rate of 101 in ODIs and 111 in T20Is (726 runs, 43 innings) makes Wanindu Hasaranga one of the world’s most exciting talents around.
One reckons, should the young spinner work more on his craft and adjust his lengths to suit conditions that he has no experience playing, think South Africa and Australia, it’ll only add more bite to this craft.
Whether the big turnaround in Sri Lankan cricket happens or not or takes longer than one reckons, which is a wild hunch to make, what can be said with certainty is that a team that has the likes of Hasaranga, Perera, Karunaratne cannot and must not be undermined.