Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why is everyone from Tennekoon to Sangakkara backing Thirimanne?

From Anura Tennekoon to Kumar Sangakkara, all former Sri Lanka captains are highly impressed by Lahiru Thirimanne.

by Rex Clementine

One of the changes that the new selection panel did for the World T-20 was to bring in top-order batsman Lahiru Thirimanne back to the fold. Thirimanne’s exclusion from the Asia Cup squad saw former greats Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara all in unison expressing their dismay at the snub. Not even dropping Asanka Gurusinha in 1997 brought in such high profile condemnation.

Compared to ‘Gura’, Thirimanne has achieved hardly anything significant. So why such an euphoria?

Sanath, Aravinda and Sanga are some of our finest cricket brains and when they all harp on a point, there must be something special about the lad. It’s not just a trio of former captains, even some of the senior ex-cricketers like Anura Tennekoon and Duleep Mendis have backed the 26- year-old to the hilt.

Thirimanne’s first break at the elite stage came during Sri Lanka’s tour of England in 2011. After Sri Lanka suffered an innings defeat in the first Test in Cardiff, they were playing a warm-up game in Chelmsford against Essex.

Tennekoon was the Manager of the National team at that point and spoke highly about Thirimanne. The former captain was impressed by Thirimanne’s assurance on which ball to leave. Mendis, who was also on tour as Chairman of Selectors was impressed by Thirimanne’s ability to change gears. He went onto score a century in that warm-up game and made his Test debut in the third Test against England at Rose Bowl although Dimuth Karunaratne was the front runner as he was the backup opener.

Thirimanne played in place of injured opener and captain Tillekeratne Dilshan. Five years on from his debut, apart from impressing in patches, he hasn’t done anything significant.

A Test average of 23 and an ODI average of 34 aren’t the stuff to get too excited on. Further, Thirimanne hasn’t managed at least a single half-century in 22 T-20 Internationals. You may think that such record doesn’t deserve high praise and constant opportunities. However, Thirimanne’s career has failed to flourish partly due to poor handling.

A year after he made his Test debut, Mendis was replaced as Chairman of Selectors. The new Chairman of Selectors pulled Thirimanne back to the middle-order and explained that the left-hander didn’t even open for his club in domestic cricket and therefore he should bat in the middle-order. Since then, Thirimanne has done a Roshan Mahanama. In Tests, he has batted from number one to seven in all batting positions. In ODIs, he has gone a step further occupying even the number eight slot. Not just once, but on four occasions.

Thirimanne’s finest hour in Test cricket came in Sydney in 2013. Kumar Sangakkara fractured his finger during the Boxing Day Test and was ruled out of the tour. Thirimanne was flown in as the replacement and after landing in Australia less than 48 hours before the Test, he went onto make a polished 91 against a formidable attack. Former Australian captain Ian Chappell was impressed with his technique.

Kumar Sangakkara, the gentleman he is, was so impressed by the maturity shown by the fellow left-handed batsman that he offered to retire from Test cricket as he was confident that Sri Lanka had found the ideal replacement to fill up the number three slot. Coach Graham Ford apparently persuaded Sangakkara to keep playing all three formats until the 2015 World Cup.

What has impressed different generations of ex-cricketers in Thirimanne is that he has a level head and a fine temperament. Then his technique is near perfect. Many believe that he will provide Sri Lanka the consistency that the team needs. Thirimanne is more like Sangakkara while Dinesh Chandimal, who bats with aggression, resembles Aravinda.

What has been lacking is a settled environment for a player like Thirimanne where he is allowed to make mistakes and then given an opportunity to learn from those mistakes.

Thirimanne is a brainy guy as well. From a rural school at Bandarawela, he passed Grade Five Scholarship and received admission to Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa. He passed GCE O/L with flying colours obtaining seven ‘A’s and three ‘B’s.

When the new selection panel headed by Aravinda was introduced to the media last week, Aravinda said something that was very sensible. He felt that since so much had been invested on guys like Thirimanne and Chandimal they needed to be persevered with despite temporary setbacks. It’s a pity that Sri Lanka Cricket failed to tap into his vast knowledge since the day he stepped down as Chairman of Selectors in 2011.

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