You may find a few guys to match Marvan Atapattu’s cover drive, but finding a substitute for his forward defence is like finding a needle in a haystack. Neat footwork, head over the ball, front shoulder side on, and high elbow, Marvan had it all.
Without a proper defence you are not going to score a Test double hundred against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Proper defence comes in handy in conditions like South Africa where fast bowlers dominate and that’s why Marvan averaged 48 in South Africa, way higher than his career average of 37.
Marvan was Sri Lanka’s most successful batsman in the 2003 World Cup as he scored 382 runs at an average of 54 and a strike rate of 82. He made two hundreds in that competition. His batting partner Sanath Jayasuriya finished with 321 runs.
One of Marvan’s hundreds in that tournament came against hosts South Africa in Durban. This was a do or die affair for the Sri Lankans after they had suffered a shock loss to Kenya earlier in the group stage.
Durban being the hometown of South African captain Shaun Pollock, the Sri Lankans were expecting a green top for the game. Unlike the scenario today, where Durban offers a balanced playing field, fast bowlers dominated in South Africa’s most prominent city in the Eastern Cape in those days.
Marvan batted through some tough periods on a steaming day. Half-way through, Sri Lanka were going less than four run an over but had wickets in hand to cash in towards the end. A big 152 run stand for the fifth wicket off 134 deliveries between Marvan and Aravinda de Silva (73 in 79) sealed the deal for the Sri Lankans.
Having played the anchor role earlier on, Marvan cashed in once he was set and went onto make 124 off 129 balls with 13 fours. He came close to outdoing his career best – but perhaps the unbeaten 132 at Lord’s deserves to be on top as it helped Sri Lanka clinch the Emirates tri-nation trophy at the Cathedral of cricket in 1998.
In that World Cup group game, Marvan and Aravinda shouldered Sri Lanka’s batting as apart from the two of them, the next highest score in the innings came in the form of extras – 18. The rest of the batting had flopped but a target of 269 was enough to let the Proteas choke. And choke they did, crashing out of their own World Cup without even reaching the second round.
It was indeed a Marvan masterclass, dominating South Africa’s all seam attack and he was named Man of the Match. A tight defence as said earlier stood in good stead for Marvan in dominating South African conditions and it was very much needed given Sri Lanka had a fragile middle order. Marvan used the defence not only as a means to survive and build his innings. It was a run making method for him as well as he picked up singles playing the forward defence.
It helped that his opening partner was Sanath Jayasuriya as the pair had tremendous understanding running between the wickets. Hardly was the other sold down the river as the run outs between the two were few.
Not often does a player top run charts for his team in one World Cup and then get totally ignored for the next. Marvan was picked for the 2007 World Cup but shockingly didn’t play even in a single game. A decision that surprised many as the team had used him in the middle order as well prior to the World Cup. So they had more options than to use Marvan as an opener only. This wasn’t a short World Cup either as Sri Lanka featured in 11 games and to snub your ex-skipper for all 11 games after picking him in the squad defies logic.
Marvan retired later that year with the second Test in Hobart being his swansong. He made 80 runs in his last Test innings.