Sri Lanka all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga took last year’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup by storm and played a major role in helping his side win the recent Asia Cup – and it was just the latest step in the rise of the island nation’s latest superstar.
Speaking on The ICC Review, Sri Lanka legend Mahela Jayawardena spoke about Hasaranga’s meteoric rise, shedding light on his early years and growing maturity while also drawing a link with another Sri Lankan great, Lasith Malinga.
Leadership qualities shining through
Hasaranga was touted to hit the highs this year, especially after wowing the crowds during the T20 World Cup in 2021 when he picked up 16 wickets to finish as the top wicket-taker at the tournament.
He has carried on that form in 2022, playing a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s success at the Asia Cup, his contributions with the bat also gaining heft. The all-rounder was the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with nine scalps and also chipped in with 66 runs, including an important 36 and 3/27 in the final against Pakistan.
He was named Player of the Tournament, and it was the latest milestone in Hasaranga’s burgeoning reputation as a player for the big occasion. All of which has convinced Jayawardena that Hasaranga has leadership qualities to go with all that firepower.
“In the last 12 months, he has shown how mature he is – not just as a bowler but with the bat as well. In tough situations, he has really come and delivered,” Jayawardena told host Sanjana Ganesan on The ICC Review.
“But as a leader in that group, even if he doesn’t have the title as the vice-captain or the captain or anything like that, but underneath all of that he has become a leader who all the young guys look up to.”
A maturing talent set to blossom
Jayawardena has known Hasaranga since he was a 19-year-old, thanks to former team-mate Chaturanga de Silva, Hasaranga’s brother.
“To be honest, his brother was actually playing cricket while we were playing cricket as well,” Jayawardena said. “So Wanindu was much younger, was playing Under-19 cricket when we were finishing off and then he started playing first-class cricket.
“We always knew that this guy can bowl and bat, but we never knew the quality of bowler he could turn out to be. I mean initially, he didn’t have the accuracy but he always had some X-factor about him, how he went about things.
“That’s where Sri Lanka invested in him when he was quite young, especially in white-ball cricket.”
Parallels with Lasith Malinga
Jayawardena sees quite a lot of similarities between Hasaranga and Malinga – both started off shy before blossoming into cornerstones of the Sri Lankan side.
“The way he has blossomed … he’s also from down south, quite close to where Lasith was (Galle) and they have similar mannerisms,” Jayawardena noted.
“The way they both came out, they started their careers quietly – you know, sat in the corner of the dressing room – and little by little they grew. The hairstyles change, the tattoos came out and the whole thing.
“It (Hasaranga’s development) is quite similar to how Lasith became who Lasith was, and that’s how I see the way Wanindu has blossomed as a player.”
The biggest similarity between the two is their fierce competitiveness, according to Jayawardena.
“The most important thing is, once they cross the field, like Lasith, he is a competitor – that’s what I love about him,” Jayawardena said.
Hasaranga has now become one of the premier all-rounders in the shortest format of the game. He has risen to No.3 in the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s T20I Rankings for bowlers, and No.4 in the all-rounders’ T20I rankings.
And at only 25, the potential is limitless.
“He is still young and (there is) a lot of cricket in front of him,” Jayawardena said.
“So long as he understands what needs to be done and be competitive out there, that’s the most important thing.”