Suranga Lakmal the lion heart

Rex Clementine reporting from Dharamshala

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AFP PHOTO

Leave alone missing a match at Dharamshala, you don’t want to skip a training session here. The public get to watch only the picturesque ground at Himachal Pradesh, but equally breathtaking are the side nets, built on the footsteps of Himalaya Mountains.

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The poisonous smog in Delhi had begun to take its toll on Suranga Lakmal and he was a doubtful starter for the first ODI having vomited all day on Friday that forced him to skip training on Saturday. He pulled up okay on the morning of the match and produced a dream spell.

Sri Lanka came into the first ODI against India having lost 12 ODIs in a row and given their struggles in shorter formats of the game recently, someone had to produce a special spell and it turned out to be Lakmal.

Running in from the Himalaya End, the indefatigable 30-year-old bowled his quota of ten overs on the trot and finished with career best figures of four for 13. Four of those overs were maidens and with excellent support from Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Pradeep, India were reduced to 29 for seven.

“The last two years have been filled with hard work. The coaching staff too has worked on me. My fitness and health have been really good over the last few days.” Lakmal stated after winning the man-of-the-match award.

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Lakmal has lost much pace. He barely touches 135kmph these days. But more importantly, he has learned the art of swinging the ball and his expertise on a two paced wicket was handful. Loose balls from him were seldom on Sunday as he  made the batsmen play tentatively. His fine effort stunned the packed house of 22,000 fans until M.S. Dhoni put up a splendid show batting with the tail.

Eight years of international cricket has made him smarter and Lakmal made those batsmen who pile up big hundreds on flat tracks mere mortals. Had Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Duanne Olivier were taking a note of Lakmal’s spell; they would be gleefully awaiting the arrival of the Indians. Dharamsala offered movement for fast bowlers, but not bounce. Newlands, Centurion and Wanderers  will be entirely different as they offer both movement and bounce. South Africa is not the place for the faint hearted.

Dharamshala is one of the most attractive grounds in the world and certainly the most beautiful in India. Located at more than 4000 feet from sea level and surrounded by mountains, the ground is soothing for the eyes. Equally satisfying was Lakmal’s performance. No Sri Lankan since Chaminda Vaas has bowled with so much control and  within himself.

It was Lakmal’s third four wicket haul and he richly deserved a five for. He now requires six more wickets to complete 100 wickets in ODIs, a feat accomplished by less than a handful of Sri Lankan seamers.

Having risen to prominence during Sri Lanka ‘A’ tour of South Africa in 2009, he was highly rated by then coach Chandika Hathurusingha as Sri Lanka narrowly lost a three match unofficial Test series before going onto win the one-dayers 4-1. After that tour, Hathurusingha highlighted Lakmal, Mathews and Tharanga Paranavithana as three players to watch out for. All three were soon fast tracked to the senior side and they have had their moments.

Lakmal has had his fair share of misfortunes. He was one of the first players to pull out from the recent  Lahore T-20 in November. Not only does the painful memories of the terrorist attack in 2009 haunt him, physically too he has to put up with the pains. Lakmal was one of the worst affected players in the attack alongside current batting coach Tilan Samaraweera and  opening batsman Paranavithana.

It was Lakmal’s first tour with the Sri Lankan team and splinters from the gun fire still remain in his left leg. Although he was advised surgery to remove the chips, he has opted not to do so. Surgery will result in a lengthy lay off from the game. So he has decided to go under the knife after retirement.

What that means is that he has to put up with numerous difficulties. In airports, every time he passes through security, the metal detector beeps not allowing him to board the aircraft. Then the team manager has to intervene with medical reports to explain to security personnel his predicament. Lakmal also can not get done an MRI scan on his left leg as it comes blank due to the presence of metal particles in his body.

Lakmal has been a revelation this year across all formats of the game. He travelled to South Africa in December last year contemplating retirement from Test cricket as his returns were not so impressive. Not his entire fault though. He was one of the worst affected bowlers due to Sri Lanka’s lack of efficiency in fielding. Many were the occasions where he was denied a five wicket haul due to dropped catches.

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This year he has come up with some fine efforts. Whether it be Cape Town, Calcutta, Dubai or Dharamshala, he has bowled his heart out putting Sri Lanka into winning positions.

If he stays fit and away from injuries, you are yet to see the best of Suranga Lakmal.

Speaking after the match Lakmal spoke of the struggle with white ball cricket “It’s been quite a struggle for us in white ball cricket. We lost 12 games in a row and at one point our World Cup participation was in doubt as well. Very pleasing to win here and take a lead in the series. We had some very good training and our planning was good and today the execution was perfect.

Lakmal who was not 100% fit after the previous game due to the polluted air in Delhi was in question of starting this game. Addressing the much-debated issue he explained “After Delhi, I was unwell. I am not hundred percent fit. Vomitted several times today as well. Never played under conditions like that before. I had a few tests and I was not hundred percent. Everyone was urging me to play here and I also wanted to be part of the team and I am glad that it all came off well.”

India is a very strong side. They are ranked number two and they have the best batting line-up in the world. Mathews shared the new ball today and what we discussed was to just bowl in the right areas as we knew this wicket will help us. We manged to get a few breakthroughs as well and glad it all happened to plan. Even the other bowlers backed us up and that helped us to keep them to 112.” stated Lakmal the jubilant fast bowler who seemed like a messiah to the victory-hungry island nation.