Realised offbreaks wouldn’t help on this track – Dananjaya
Not many people on the planet will have had as eventful a past 48 hours as Akila Dananjaya. On Tuesday, having left the Sri Lanka squad, Dananjaya was getting married in Moratuwa – just south of Colombo. No present team-mates could attend, of course, but that is not to say Sri Lankan cricket went unrepresented at the ceremony: none other than Rangana Herath was the witness at the registration of the marriage.
Then, just like that, Dananjaya booked it to Kandy with his new bride, and by 9.30pm on Thursday, was deceiving Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, turning in his best-ever performance for Sri Lanka, and very nearly winning the match single-handedly, with an eight-over spell that yielded six wickets for the cost of 39 runs.
“The wedding was in the afternoon on Tuesday, and when I got back to the team hotel it was around 11.30 in the night,” Dhananjaya said of his big day. “We wanted to reach earlier than that, but it took a little longer. The wedding finished at about 4pm. Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis were there – bowlers whom I had liked from a long time back. I had asked them to sign at the wedding.”
And it was almost the spirit of Ajantha Mendis that Dananjaya invoked on Wednesday night – most of his wickets coming through deception. There is no change in the way Dananjaya grips the ball, but at the point of delivery, he can make the ball do at least three things. His stock ball is the offbreak, but when he feels the situation suits it, he can deliver the ball out of the back of his hand, to make it turn away from the right-handed batsman.
The most destructive delivery of the evening, however, was his googly, which a series of India batsmen failed to decipher. Kohli, Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul were all dismissed by that ball in the space of five deliveries. In Dananjaya’s next over, Hardik Pandya also came down the track and played for the legbreak, only for the ball to break back towards him, and slip between bat and pad.
“I realised that on this pitch, the offbreak was not helping much,” Dananjaya said. “So I decided to get back to my variations. The target we had to defend wasn’t too big either, so we had to take wickets. I bowled a lot of variations and it went really well. Generally, I am an offspinner, but the wicket-taking balls are the legbreak and googly.”
While Dananjaya delivered the spell of his life, Sri Lanka’s remaining bowlers were again largely unable to make breakthroughs. Captain Upul Tharanga chose to reserve two of Dananjaya’s overs for later in the innings – perhaps hoping the likes of Lasith Malinga or Dushmantha Chameera could break the seventh-wicket stand, which would leave tailenders with the prospect of facing Sri Lanka’s best bowler of the day.
Save for Milinda Siriwardana, who took the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan earlier in the innings, no other bowler could muster a wicket. When Dananjaya returned to the bowling crease, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and MS Dhoni were nicely set. The target of 231 was achieved with 16 balls to spare.
“I thought it would be better to get back later on, if someone breaks the partnership,” Dananjaya said of the decision to take him out of the attack after his eighth over. “Once wickets come along, we also gain confidence. But they batted really well – Bhuvi and Dhoni were superb, and there was nothing much of a change from the pitch.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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