Tillakaratne Dilshan defying age with splendid performances
Like fine wine, Tillakaratne Dilshan has only got better with age.The inventor of ‘Dilscoop’ has risen his game to a different level in the last few years. He is one of the few players whose performances have only improved with the increase in age.
One of the pillars of Sri Lankan batting for the last seven-eight years, he will be more important to the island nation with the retirement of two stalwarts, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Though underrated and slightly ignored during the presence of the two greats, he has been an extremely important part of the Sri Lankan setup and will continue to be.
Stats show how much he has improved with age
Let us have a look at Dilshan’s numbers since January 2011. He averages 45.06 in 128 ODIs during this period while his overall career average is 39.71, 14 of his 22 ODI centuries have come in this period.
After a less fruitful 2011 in which he averaged 31.53, he has averaged 41.44, 61.05, 41.25 and 59.00 in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. His average in home conditions is a staggering 55.30 while his away average is slightly below par 34.68. In the neutral venues, he averages 44.86.
Another important facet of the later half of his career has been his ability to raise his game during the big tournaments. He has averaged a mammoth 63.92 in the 16 World Cup games he has played during this period. He averaged 51.30 in the Australian tri-series while, 38.66 in the ICC Champions trophy. The only big tournament in which he failed was in the Asia Cup in which he scored only 46 runs in three games.
Dilshan’s runs have been extremely crucial in his team’s victory. In the 60 ODIs Sri Lanka has lost since January 2011, he has averaged a meager 31.17 while his average rises to 60.28 in the 60 ODIs Sri Lanka has won. The statistics clearly reveal Dilshan’s meteoric rise in ODIs and how important his runs are for the team’s success.
Fitness and opening the innings key to his success
Dilshan started opening the innings for Sri Lanka in 2008 and since then he has not looked backward. He has scored 7084 runs in 168 matches while opening the innings for his country with an impressive average of 47.22. 21 out of his 22 ODI hundreds were scored as an opener.
Fielding restrictions in the first part of the ODI innings and the harder ball has helped him to score freely. So the idea to move him to the top of the order from the middle has proved to be a masterstroke.
For a hand-eye coordination player like Dilshan, it was important that he maintained his fitness levels. He has been super fit throughout his career which has allowed him to perform well even in the later half of his career. Even at 38 years of age he fields at backward point, a clear sign of his fitness levels.
Giving up Test cricket and solely focusing on ODIs and T-20s has actually helped him further and since his Test retirement, he has become a more improved ODI player.
Sri Lanka need his experience during the transition period
Despite being older than Sangakkara and Jayawardena, he has reiterated his desire to keep playing. And he should carry on as long as he keeps performing considering the fact that the team suddenly looks short on experience.
His runs at the top of the order will put less pressure on the youngsters like Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne in the middle order, who are trying to carve their niche in international cricket. Also Angelo Mathews will benefit from Dilshan as he can seek some valuable advice from the former captain.
If he can sustain his good form for 2-3 years, then Sri Lanka will have less trouble in the transition period as not only he will win matches on his own but he will also be able to guide the youngsters who will need his valuable advice during their nascent careers.
Though it looks unlikely but if he plays till the 2019 World Cup, Sri Lanka would like to gift the maestro a World Cup as a retirement present something which Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have sorely missed.