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Isuru Udana- The T20 specialist signaling a new dawn for Sri Lankan cricket

Isuru Udana in action for RCB. Image Credits: iplt20.com
Isuru Udana in action for RCB. Image Credits: iplt20.com
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Modified 22 Oct 2020, 15:48 IST
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During the 2019 Cricket World Cup, Dimuth Karunaratne made a very interesting statement while addressing the media.

He said: ''In Sri Lanka, we have only one domestic season, and when the players come through to the international level, there is a huge gap. We have to play more and allow our cricketers to go and play in the Indian Premier League, Big Bash League, and county cricket''.

Having been made captain of a side that had not won a bilateral ODI series for three long years, Karunaratne knew things had to change. He had stressed the right issues in that press conference.

After 2017, two seasons of BBL came and went, but no Sri Lankan cricketer was a part of it. The IPL was no different. Lasith Malinga was the only Sri Lankan to feature in it. There was an urgent need for a player to stand up and lead the way for Sri Lanka.

Let us rewind to almost a year and a half ago. After some Kusal Perera madness in the Test series, Sri Lanka were beaming with confidence heading into the ODIs against South Africa in 2019. But South Africa at home were invincible.

There was no stopping them as the team cruised to an unassailable 3-0 lead. In the 4th ODI, Sri Lanka, batting first, collapsed to a meager 131/9. As usual, things were looking bleak. But out of nowhere, a medium-fast bowler by profession lit up St George's Park with an array of shots, taking his team to a total which they believed was impossible to achieve.

He hit Anrich Nortje, who clocks 90 mph with ease, for three consecutive sixes in an over. He made the cricketing world turn towards him after this smash fest. His name was Isuru Udana.

A product of the Sri Lanka under-19 set-up, Udana entered the international scene after impressive performances for Sri Lanka A and his domestic team Wayamba.

Touted to be the next Chaminda Vaas, he was selected as a part of the 2009 T20 World Cup in England. Udana failed to make a significant impact as he picked up 5 wickets in 4 outings.

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Udana failed to retain his spot on the national team after the T20 World Cup in England. For almost 10 years, he had a start-stop career and was in and out of the international side.

Udana knew he had to add more skills to his armory. As years went by, he became a highly valuable lower-order batsman, who could smash a few out of the park in addition to his work as a medium-fast bowler.

Soon, he got picked for the tour of South Africa in 2019 as a part of the limited-overs squad. Udana's performance in the 4th ODI was almost a life-changing moment in his career.

He backed this performance with another swashbuckling 84* off 48 balls in the second T20, almost pulling off a spectacular chase. His score is the highest individual score in T20Is for a number 8 batsman. Udana's exploits earned him a spot in the team for the 2019 World Cup. But things did not go to plan and he could not make a huge impact for Sri Lanka during a disappointing campaign.

Isuru Udana: The franchise league journey

South African fans remembered Isuru Udana. Paarl Rocks, needing a replacement for David Willey, knew Isuru Udana would be a good fit. A like-for-like replacement, Udana entered the Mzansi Super League in 2019 with a bag of huge expectations.

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Udana was at the peak of his career as he picked up 10 wickets in 10 outings at a miserly economy of 7.94, which is exceptional for a death bowler. Against Cape Town Blitz, Udana conceded only 8 defending 11, proving his mettle at the death. He was decent with the bat as he scored 95 runs in 8 outings at a strike rate of 120. He was instrumental in Rocks' title-winning season.

Udana's variations at the death are very subtle. His back of-the-hand loopy slower balls have fooled many batsmen. In addition to the nippy slower balls, Isuru Udana's yorkers are a skill sought after in the T20s.

It was his death bowling in MSL 2019 which caught the eyes of franchises around the world. Mike Hesson, the Director of Cricket Operations for RCB, went after Isuru Udana and bought him for the upcoming IPL season in 2020.

Isuru Udana was not expected to be in the first playing XI of RCB. With big guns like Chris Morris and Dale Steyn in the ranks and Kane Richardson and Moeen Ali as replacements, Isuru Udana was staring at a lengthy spell on the bench. But with Richardson opting out of IPL 2020 and Dale Steyn misfiring in the first few games, RCB turned to Isuru Udana.

He has been impressive so far by picking wickets at crucial stages of the games. Udana has so far scalped the high profile wickets of Steve Smith, Andre Russell, and Shikhar Dhawan. He has taken the huge burden of bowling the death overs for RCB, a part of the game which has been RCB’s biggest concern over the years.

Even though his economy is a bit on the higher side, it should be noted that Isuru Udana bowls the tougher overs at the death.

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Isuru Udana made a comeback to the national team at the right time for Sri Lanka. At a time where no Sri Lankan is a part of a big franchise league, Isuru Udana is an integral mem of one of the biggest franchises of all time. The way RCB planned the matchup between Isuru Udana and Andre Russell shows the value Udana adds to the team.

Isuru Udana, with performances like these, will be the ambassador to a convoy of cricketers from the island nation at the biggest stage. Despite having a bad day against RR, Virat Kohli lauded Isuru Udana for bowling well through the group stages so far. This statement from the captain himself will add a lot to Udana's confidence. If RCB are going to take it one step further this season and win the IPL, Isuru Udana should and will be a part of the XI which brings the team glory.

Published 21 Oct 2020, 23:22 IST
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