by Rex Clementine
Respected Indian cricket writer R. Kaushik, who has authored several cricket books including autobiographies of VVS Laxman, ‘281 and Beyond’ and Gundappa Vishwanath ‘Wrist Assured’ is a wise man in the game. He also happens to be a keen follower of Sri Lankan cricket. For the 2003 World Cup, when Sri Lanka traveled to South Africa leaving TM Dilshan out, he commented that it was a blunder. Many of us didn’t get his point at that time but in subsequent World Cups Dilshan proved what an asset he can be for the side.
Dilshan could open batting, fit in the middle order, send down ten overs, keep wickets and he was the team’s best fielder. Leaving him out was a no brainer, argued Kaushik.
Similarly, during this year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup, he commented that Dunith Wellalage is a special talent and Sri Lanka have found a match winner. Wellalage has come off with flying colours. After his outing with the Under-19 side, he hit a purple patch in England when he represented Sri Lanka Development Squad. That earned him a call up with Sri Lanka ‘A’ and cricketing hierarchy felt that time was ripe for little Dunith to be thrown into the deep end at the age of 19 against the mighty Aussies. It started off as a dream debut, many teenagers would be dreaming to dismiss Steve Smith on debut.
At Pallekele, Wellalage was living his dream. But eventually it was baptism by fire as Glenn Maxwell was in beast mode. One of cricket’s deadliest finishers versus a rookie was a mismatch. For once, Goliath won but David would have the last laugh. Now then, no saying devil quoting the Bible.
Wellalage was going to get the long rope, play all five games irrespective of results having emerged as one of the best talents in recent times. But he has earned his place with that eye-catching performance in the second game. He chipped in with a useful 20 with the bat before inflicting two vital blows by dismissing Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne in successive overs and that put the brakes on the modest Aussie run chase. More than anything, the moment that lifted his profile was that terrific catch to dismiss Pat Cummins. This is no ordinary player. This is Anura Ranasinghe reborn.
Little Dunith hails from a cricketing family in Moratuwa, one of the nation’s finest cricket bases. His father Suranga was a wicket-keeper batsman who represented Prince of Wales. The left-hander played in six Big Matches and could have gone onto achieve much more in cricket had he focused on the game.
Dunith attended St. Sebastian’s initially before shifting to St. Joseph’s. There he was a sensation. To his luck he had two superb mentors at school, Rev. Fr. Travis Gabriel, the Rector and former Test cricketer Roger Wijesuriya as the coach. A child can rarely fault when there are such sound minds and strict disciplinarians.
Kaushik back in Bangalore is excited for Wellalage and he’s confident that good times are ahead for Sri Lankan cricket, but he has a word of caution, be patient with the young man. Don’t ruin his talent.
Many are talents that we have ruined. Some have self destructed themselves while some others have been given raw deals. Take the case of Wanindu Hasaranga. Like Dunith, he was 19 when Sanath Jayasuriya picked him out of the blues. He had such an impact claiming a hat-trick on debut. Instead of allowing him to develop, soon after Sanath left, he was axed and was in the wilderness for 15 months.
For the 2019 World Cup in England, Sri Lanka overlooked Hasaranga and their leg-spin choice was interesting. All these Born Again claims can not be dismissed as gossip.
Thankfully when Mickey Arthur returned, Hasaranga found a good mentor. It helped that Ashantha de Mel was Chairman of Selectors. The good thing about de Mel is that if the coach convinced him, he would back the coach’s choices. Let’s hope Wellalage doesn’t suffer the same fate.