Sri Lanka pick mystery man

Akila Dananjaya – new magician on the block

First it was West Indies’ Sunil Narine. Now another mystery spinner is set to hit the headlines.

Akila Dananjaya an 18-year-old unknown, who has never played for Sri Lanka at Under-19 level, or any first-class or List A cricket, has been picked by Sri Lanka for the ICC’s World Twenty20 which starts in his homeland next month.

Dananjaya had been playing tier-three school cricket for the little-known Mahanama Vidyalaya when he was invited to a Sri Lanka practice session ahead of Pakistan’s tour in June.

Coach Graham Ford and Mahela Jayawardene had been searching for a bowler who could mimic Saeed Ajmal, and his doosra in particular. What they got in Dananjaya was more than just a competent impostor.

In his first professional match, for Wayamba United in the SLPL, Dananjaya showcased the tools with which he had so impressed Jayawardene and Ford that they requested he be fast-tracked to the tips of the national team. He began with several stock off-spinners, flighted, dipping, and ripping out of the Premadasa clay. Then the googly was introduced. More subtle than most at the point of delivery, but then so was the turn – not that that was any mercy to the three batsmen who have fallen to it in the tournament so far.

The doosra followed, his first ball to cut away from the right-hander. The legbreak next, flighted again and with a slight snap of over-spin. And the carrom ball last – maybe a tad too short to be truly effective, giving the batsman time to read it off the pitch.

But perhaps the most impressive aspects of his game were not his variations, but the cunning with which he used them. In each of his spells throughout the SLPL, Dananjaya has resisted trotting out his deliveries for the circus. Each ball has been deliberate, each length has attempted to draw the batsman into a false stroke, though he does occasionally miss his target and over-pitch.

His focus on his own game has been encouraging too. Instead of allowing nerves to frighten him into a defensive approach, he has seemed in complete control, at home even, in the limelight.

“What’s been really good to see is his temperament, for a guy who hasn’t played at this level before,” Wayamba United and former Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss said. “The control with which he bowls his various deliveries is impressive, but he’s also shown a lot of poise at the big moments, and a tendency to ignore what’s going on around him and do what he does.”

The novelty of his method may get him through his first international assignment, but he must prove himself a disciple of flight, dip and turn, if he is to truly make good on his considerable promise.

It shall be interesting watching Dananjaya, Ajmal and Narine in spinner-friendly conditions during next month’s tournament. (Cricinfo/WG)

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