You wouldn’t get too many better things in cricket than seeing Chamara Silva in full flow. An insatiable appetite to dominate bowling can make him look stupid when things go wrong, but since the days of the great Aravinda de Silva, nobody characterized that swagger and charm – two extremes – better than Chamara. He was good against pace and creative against spin.
Strong on the back foot – with the cut and the pull being his bread and butter – and a watertight defence should have got him to make more appearances in the blue cap, but Chamara Silva was a victim to circumstances.
As Sidath Wettimuny launched an aggressive youth policy after Sri Lanka as defending champions failed to go beyond the first round of the 1999 World Cup, Chamara was one of the players to get a nod. His ODI debut was against Steve Waugh’s side who had won the ICC Cricket World Cup just six weeks ago and the attack had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Chamara was just 19-years-old and entertained the packed house at RPS. He picked Warne’s wrong’un expertly and went onto top score with 55 in the Sri Lankan innings.
Chamara was in full control and showcased the mercurial brilliance of Aravinda. However, having promised us so much, he achieved very little. The fault, however, is not entirely his. Chamara has been a victim of circumstances.
Two years after making his ODI debut, Chamara was set to make his Test debut. Zimbabwe were on tour and Sri Lanka had taken a 2-0 lead ahead of the third Test at Asgiriya. The selectors announced that some seniors will be rested for the dead rubber in order to give exposure to younger players. Chamara was to come in for vice-captain Marvan Atapattu.
Little did the selectors realize that trouble was brewing in Kandy. The team’s senior players didn’t welcome the idea and there was a protest. As negotiations with the selectors failed, the senior group opted to take up the matter with Johnston Fernando, the Minister of Sports. Fernando went to the extreme. He sacked the national selection panel, reinstated Atapattu and appointed a new selection panel. Sri Lanka completed a 3-0 whitewash and under Sanath Jayasuriya had won a record eight Test matches in a row. Everything looked tickety-boo. But young Chamara was suffering in silence.
The Sri Lankan dressing room, apparently when they decide to give someone the cold shoulder, can be an appalling place, we are told. Jayasuriya and Atapattu themselves were at the receiving end several years later. The one to suffer most recently was Dinesh Chandimal during the 2014 World T-20.
Would you believe that Chamara had to wait for five more years to make his Test debut? His moment finally came in Christchurch at the old cricket ground – the Lancaster Park that has been since abandoned as cricket in south island’s main city has moved to Hagley Oval. On debut, Chamara did a Graham Gooch. He collected a pair! It was an anti-climax after a long wait and there was knee-jerk reaction in Colombo.
But Tom Moody, Sri Lanka’s Head Coach wasn’t rattled. He told the press after the game that he was backing Chamara to the hilt. What followed at Basin Reserve in the next Test was sensational. It was a thrilling Test match and Sri Lanka had gained a 138 run lead. Chamara Silva put the game out of New Zealand’s reach with a sparkling unbeaten 152 in the second essay. No other Sri Lankan batsmen managed a fifty in that innings. Chamara was pure class. There were powerful cuts and elegant drives off seamers Shane Bond, Chris Martin and James Franklin while he brought in the sweep and the inside out shot off the left-arm spin of Daniel Vettori.
Murali took six wickets in New Zealand’s second innings as Sri Lanka completed a 217 run win. The press were voting for Man of the Match and their decision was unanimous as all voted for Chamara. Aravinda de Silva and Kumar Sangakkara have made some superb hundreds away from home. That effort by Chamara Silva was as good as any hundred by a Sri Lankan batsman overseas.
A year later he was axed from the Test side. That was despite a half-century in his last Test. That was in 2008 in the West Indies and the door never opened for him again in Test cricket.
More recently, Chamara was again in the news for all the wrong reasons as a Sri Lanka Cricket lawyer found him guilty of corrupt practice and handed him two-year suspension from all forms of cricket. This was after an investigation where it was found that the First Class fixture between Panadura SC and Kalutara PCC in January last year was fixed. Chamara as the captain of Panadura SC copped the maximum punishment along with his opposite number Manoj Deshapriya.
Chamara was again being a victim of circumstances. Certain higher ups conspired to fix the First Class game in such a manner that Panadura would gain promotion to Tier ‘A’ and Kalutara will continue to play First Class cricket without being demoted to Sara Trophy.
The moment the idea was put across to Chamara he turned down the offer and didn’t turn up for the corrupt final day’s play. In the absence of Chamara, the game was fixed. Sri Lanka Ports Authority and Air Force the aggrieved parties took up matters with SLC. The media made some scathing criticism as well and SLC had to act.
In Chamara, a scapegoat was found while the culprits were let off the hook. Chamara’s former team-mates like Kumar Sangakkara came to his aid speaking against the suspension. The Sports Ministry intervened and the suspension on Chamara was lifted. But the crooks who fixed the match are still at large.