Thilan Samaraweera - the essence of a true champion
There are sagas written in relation to the Indian cricketers that have failed to capture the true essence of the players who were champions and yet were considered legends on the field. It stems from the fact that Indian cricket is revered for the kind of fan base they have captured over the years. Players who do not deserve half the credit are hailed as heroes due to the cricket madness prevailing in this country. Yet, there have been cricketers who were never in the limelight and they carry on in the same fashion, unperturbed by these ‘trivial ‘issues.
The class, the elegance and the grace of Laxman for example, has been portrayed in countless tributes since his valiant knock in 2001. There was one other player who was perceived to be the doppelganger of Laxman based on his attributes and in the manner in which he approached the game. Silkiness and poise are two attributes that one can associate with Thilan Samaraweera.
Samaraweera, who was originally an off-spin bowler, did not gather much recognition due to the presence of an established spinner in the side. Being a bowling all-rounder didn’t help. He had to endure the ignorance for a while before he finally got the opportunity to make his debut.
The debut series was a disaster for him, as he was deemed vulnerable against talented bowlers. It was a while before he was handed a Test cap against India, precisely three years after his initial burst. It wasn’t a walk in the park as he had to hone his batting skills and make his comeback as a middle-order batsman.
He made an immediate impact and his presence was welcomed largely due to the crumbling middle-order. The void left behind by the batting giants, Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, was showing, as the Sri Lankan middle-order was adjudged weak and wanting. He added the much needed stability to the side, exhibiting his skills as an accumulator who could bat along with the tail-enders.
The elegance in his batting was visibly pleasing as he scored his maiden Test century against India. It came under tough conditions, batting against the might of Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. His batting was a sight to behold. At his sublime best, it was a pleasure to watch him against the spinners as he had ‘text-book’ footwork and impeccable timing in his repertoire.
Together with Sangakkara and Jayawardene, he formed the crux of the Sri Lankan middle-order. His arrival meant that Sri Lanka had more batting force than the past, as he proved vital in holding the middle-order together. Though he has been over shadowed by his team-mates, he had carved a niche for himself as the solid block in the Sri Lankan batting. If Sangakkara was known for his charm, Jayawardene for his class, Samaraweera excelled in shepherding the batting in a dogged fashion.
The testing times in his career were in the year 2009. He had a splendid season scoring back-to-back double centuries against Pakistan, not to mention the world record partnership of 411 runs with Mahela Jayawardene. Finally, he had achieved the status of a regular player in the side, when destiny had other plans for him.
The Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan players that shook the whole world, had an effect on Samaraweera. He was hit by a bullet on the left thigh and had to undergo an operation, which kept him out of action for more than two months. It wasn’t any common injury, and men made of stronger mantle would have been shaken by the attack. But Samaraweera inspired a brave comeback to the Test fold and proved to the world that his life could still go on after what had transpired.
Similar to Laxman, his one day career never took off due to the label he earned as a Test player; even though he obtained an opportunity to cement his place in 2009. Playing against New Zealand under lights, Samaraweera managed to score a fine century. The interesting attribute of this knock included the fact that he was the lone player to cross the half-century mark. His credentials as a Test player came to the fore as he played a measure knock to outwit the opponents.
But his career sunk low due to his inconsistency and the inability to score quickly. On the hindsight, he was much similar to a Laxman, who played at number six in the Tests and had a poor one day career. There are enough similarities between the two that would sound clichéd and redundant now.
The greatest shortcoming of his would refer to the fact that he had seldom been successful outside the subcontinent. As a player on the defensive mode, he let the lack of technique against the fast bowlers torment him time and again. The fact that he has scored only two centuries outside the subcontinent in hostile conditions (both against South Africa in 2011-12) does not justify his talent as one of the greatest middle-order batsmen to have emerged from the island nation.
Yet, he stood rock-solid for the team whenever it had required its service. He has been dropped yet again for the tour in Bangladesh. Sri Lankan cricket has not realized the importance of the meticulous old predator as they are looking to build a team for future. This time he has decided to hang his boots as he deemed the fight not worthy.
“I was shocked with my omission from the squad against Bangladesh. There was no point in waiting for nine months. I respect the decision of the selectors to go with young players and decided it was the right time for me to retire.” – Thilan Samaraweera.
The sacking hurt him, and yet as a team player, he has looked at the prospect of the betterment of Sri Lankan cricket. He is definitely a cricketer who could take both victory and defeat in his stride. A true servant of the game, Samaraweera’s services would be sorely missed by the lions as they are looking forward to a tough season ahead. The void would definitely show itself in the near future, and Sri Lanka needs to ensure that they have indeed taken the right decision on his account. A player of Samaraweera’s class is hard to find and they would do better to ensure that the transformation is true and flawless.
Looking back on his career, he would definitely be disappointed for not scoring more runs, but he would definitely be satisfied with what he has achieved as a cricketer, and it would be a joy to reminisce all the good times he had with Sri Lankan cricket.