There is a little story that has been etched in my memory for a mighty long time. In our driveway down Nawala there was a time that we used to play softball cricket. It was intense cricket where no quarter was given even for a fair damsel. With the training that we had, many a [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The curse of the compact allrounder


There is a little story that has been etched in my memory for a mighty long time. In our driveway down Nawala there was a time that we used to play softball cricket. It was intense cricket where no quarter was given even for a fair damsel. With the training that we had, many a young cricketer graduated to play for their respective schools, but, out of them a gutty left hander by the name of Keerthi Ranasinghe stood above the rest.

Keerthi Ranasinghe was a promising young allrounder who cut short his career.

From his younger days he was bold enough to face up to any bowler who came in his way. Then at Nalanda Collage we saw him graduating through the ranks till he went onto captain the school.

While in school he was one of the best allrounders. He was an opening batsman who did not mind batting even at number three. Initially he was the wicket-keeper and when he was a senior member of the team along with Roshan Mahanama and Asanka Gurusinha he used the new ball and once the shine wears off dons the pads behind the wickets once again.

Once out of school, Roshan turned out mostly for CCC, Asanka rooted himself as an SSC stalwart while Keerthi stood firm as a loyal Bloomfield player. He joined the club after the 1983 schools season.

At that time the Lankan international calendar was not as vivid as today. Nonetheless, Keerthi after few prolific club seasons, got his break to play against Pakistan under Duleep Mendis. Ironically the game was a 25-over affair as rains shaved off twenty overs from the original schedule. Opening batting with the present SLC CEO Ashley de Silva, Keerthi went on to top score for Sri Lanka in a low scoring affair. He made 41 off 49 balls and bowling first change he bagged the wicket of opening batsman Mudassar Nazar for 41.

Lankans made 124 for 6 in 23 overs due to a slow overate and the Pakistani batsmen overran that total in 21.3 overs for the loss of only two wickets.
At that I was privy to one little secret in his life. The day he top scored and walked into the dressing room he was in for shock. Even during that time there were stumbling obstacles in the politics of cricket. Instead of congratulating the young lad who had ended up as the top scorer on a difficult drying surface all what he received was a dampener. The rude official told the young man, “You may have top scored in this game, but, don’t think that you will become a regular feature.” That may have given a clue to what was in store for him.

Both Asela Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella are two cricketers who seem to get raw deals as a habit.

He played only three more games for the country before he crossed over to Old Blighty. He is now a professional Middlesex CCC coach who trains youth at the Finchley Academy. What I tried to point out in this narration was that he was a plucky cricketer who could have fitted into the framework of eleven players in any format. But, the officialdom did not know how to enthuse a bright cricketing candidate.

When I read the final lineup of the Lankan squad to South Africa, I just could not help getting that creepy feeling. I was just thinking about 30-year-old Asela Gunaratne who just missed the team bus. He cut his teeth in cricket at Rahula Kandy where he played from 2003 to 2006 and captained during his last tenure. Then he moved to the stripes and stars at Army and played with a lot of success until was forced to be looked at by the authorities.
For his achievements’ he at least could be happy to think that he is an Asian Games Gold medallist in cricket.

His first break in international cricket was not remarkable. He could not do much in a game against India where the Lankans played pocket series.
Like Keerthi, Asela is also a compact allrounder who could turn a game even alone with his individual skills. In his first Test match, he scored a half century against Zimbabwe and batted with the confidence of a senior and looked very comfortable. So much so, when it came to the second test he doubled his contribution and scored his maiden century.

Then more than once he became the Lankan bowler who could affect that breakthrough with his gentle medium pace cutters. There were occasions during that series where the captain almost counted Asela’s skills as a full time trundler.

Then even in the final against Zimbabwe when it mattered the most, he scored only some sixteen runs, but, his calming effect on the crease was almost contagious. Skipper Upul Tharanga, who was huffing and puffing until then, came up with the winning run with a flurry of boundaries. Asela is a compact allrounder who can make a difference.Yet, the million dollar question is that at the age of 30, he has just begun his international career. Of course he has the potential too, but, would the all knowing national selectors think about him?

Talking of compact allrounders, another name that comes to my mind is Milinda Siriwardena. He is a test batsman who has a respectable average of 33.11 with a highest score of 68. In ODI cricket his average is not bad either. His ODI average of 28.10 and the highest score of 66 can be counted as more than legitimate. Then in T-20 cricket his average is 18.75 with the best being 42. Not bad either. Yet, of late, some faces do not like his and he is in cold storage.
Alas I wonder what sort of contract that he is under with Sri Lanka Cricket.

Niroshan Dickwella also could be fitted into the slot because he also keeps wickets. He has a Test highest of 72 and an ODI best of 94. Every chance that he is given has been for the good of the Lion flag, but, at the end of the name list what is more often missing is the name with the Dickwella tag on it.
Yes, we all agree that only that many cricketers can make a tour and it’s bad luck for the rest. But, there are some cricketers who keep doing the right thing and still get the wrong end, while there are some others who keep faltering, but, are given crutches to limp along.

I feel that being in the allround category is bad for a cricketer’s health. He is neither a bat nor a ball when his name is counted against a specialist.

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