Asela Gunaratne’s ability to become a ‘finisher’ was once again showcased on Tuesday at R. Premadasa when he made an unbeaten 151-ball 80, even with a tight hamstring against Zimbabwe to script the fifth highest run chase in Test history.
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He first came to the limelight earlier this year scoring a match-winning 84 in Geelong, Australia in a T20 match to guide Sri Lanka to a series win and later showcased the same finishing skills during the ICC Champions Trophy last month when the islanders beat India in another historic run-chase.
“I told Asela this morning, you are going to get a hundred today. But very confidently, Asela said to me: No Chandi, there won’t be a reason for me to get a 100. I’ll get 70+ not out and win the game. That’s the kind of faith I expect from my players. There’s a chance he might not have been able to do that today, but the way he spoke, even I became confident as a captain that we could win this match. Those are good things. I’m happy that I have players like that.” Chandimal said of Asela’s early morning promise.
Asela Gunaratne put on 121 runs with Niroshan Dickwella and then 67 with Dilruwan Perera to guide…
Sri Lanka’s chase of 391/6 is also the highest successful run chase in Asia, the previous highest in Asia was India’s chase of 387 against England in Chennai in 2008. The previous highest in Sri Lanka was Pakistan’s chase of 377 against the hosts in Pallekele in 2015.
Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal who commenced his Captaincy career with an important win shared his views after the game, “Zimbabwe tried hard to win the game and it was never easy for us to win the match. As a Test team, we cannot afford to make many mistakes throughout the five days. We do well in some sessions and sometimes we don’t so as players our final aim was to win the match and as Captain, I’m very happy about the result. Our plan was to play our natural game and go for the win because if we went to draw the match, we could have lost the game. I told the team that they should not be afraid to make mistakes and I will take responsibility for whatever the outcome is. Kusal Mendis, Dimuth and Upul played well, then at the end, Asela and Dickwella were excellent.“ He said.
After the overnight batsmen, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews perished off Zimbabwe skipper Graeme Cremer, Gunaratne and Dickwella added 121 runs for the 6th wicket which brought Sri Lanka close to the target. “Since he came to the crease, what Dickwella said was, talk to me all the time, and make me score runs. I think what he meant was that he hasn’t scored a big Test innings, where I have. He just wanted me to tell him how to handle situations. Sometimes when the game was going a certain way, he wanted me to keep advising him. Occasionally I’d tell him not to go for certain shots. In the end, he stuck around and scored.” Gunaratne shared vital information about his partnership with Niroshan Dickwella who made 81 off 118 balls.
Asela was suffering from a tight hamstring since the first innings and was not able to take the field in the second innings. His fitness will be a key factor in the coming days as Sri Lanka prepare to take on the number 1 ranked Indians, “It’s not a big injury. I felt that my hamstring was tight. It hasn’t torn – the physio also said it hasn’t torn. But I was ready to bat. I had it plastered, and didn’t bowl any overs or field. My inability to bowl was a big loss.” Gunaratne said. “My one goal was to rest and somehow take the team to victory. We have plenty of days to rest so I hope resting for the next 2-3 days will make me fit to face the Indians. “
Asela Gunaratne has soon risen as a permanent member of the Sri Lanka national team in all three formats due to his all-round abilities. He has been the ‘Golden Arm’ of Sri Lanka Cricket in recent times picking up crucial wickets at vital times. His willy off-cutters can deceive the batsmen and provides the fifth bowler’s option to balance the team.
“I’ll do whatever the captain requires of me. In this Test, for example, when our main bowlers Rangana and Dilruwan weren’t getting wickets, sometimes a wicket was required of me. I might not need to be a main bowler, but I could be a breakthrough bowler. I’m always batting a lot at practice, and I also bowl a lot. I can bowl the leg-spin as well to vary my deliveries. I’m hoping to be a good bowler.” Gunaratne said at the end of the post-match press conference.