India vs Sri Lanka: Akila Dananjaya's heroics show the Lions have unearthed a new gem

Dananjaya had scalped six out of seven Indian wickets and had single-handedly scripted the turnaround.

Rohit Sankar, August 25, 2017

23 minutes. 13 balls. six runs. five wickets.

Just when it seemed like cricket was getting boring with one-sided affairs, a mystery spinner — Akila Dananjaya —popped up from the shallow depths of Sri Lanka's talent pool to bring it back to life in space of 23 minutes and 13 balls.

At 109/0, chasing 237 for victory, it again seemed like routine work for India in the second ODI against Sri Lanka in Pallekele. They had barely been tested throughout the tour and it seemed like the hosts had run out of options until they unleashed Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera.

Akila Dananjaya (C) celebrates the wicket of Hardik Pandya in 2nd ODI against India. AP

Akila Dananjaya (C) celebrates the wicket of Hardik Pandya in 2nd ODI against India. AP

The newly wed mystery spinner had impressed Sri Lanka legend Mahela Jayawardena so much back in 2012 that the former cricketer wanted him fast-tracked into limited-overs cricket. A lot of eyebrows were raised when Dananjaya was picked in the World T20 squad in 2012 without having played a professional match in his career. He silenced them all with significant contributions in the tournament. But once Jayawardena stepped down from captaincy, Dananjaya went out of favour with the selectors. He returned five years later and a four-wicket haul against Zimbabwe last month, convinced the selectors to persist with him for the Indian series.

He was a wily customer with a plethora of variations up his sleeve. No one knew if he was an off-spinner or a leggie. Not even the Indians.

When he trudged in to ball the first of his ten mesmerising overs, India had no clue what awaited them. Because of the rain in the innings break, the ball was skidding onto the pitch. And this is where Dananjaya's role became crucial.

After going wicketless for first couple of overs, Dananjaya was hit for a six over mid on off the first ball of his third over. It was all too easy for the Indian openers but Dananjaya bounced back a ball later to trap Rohit LBW. Siriwardana sent back Shikhar Dhawan in the next over. What followed was a surprise as Virat Kohli sent in Kedar Jadhav and Lokesh Rahul ahead of him.

However, the next over turned the game upside down.

Dananjaya breathed fire to devour Jadhav, Kohli and Rahul in the same over with his well disguised googlies.

Jadhav stood clueless as Dananjaya's wrong'un missed his forward prod and rattled the stumps. Two balls later, it was the Indian skipper who looked befuddled against the same delivery as he missed a whip across the line and found his stumps shattered. He gave a death stare at the pitch and trudged off. The commentators were awe struck and Dananjaya was on a roll. Kohli had barely removed his gloves in the dressing room when Rahul walked back to join him, bamboozled by another of Dananjaya's mysterious googlies that were now skidding off the surface at tremendous pace.

From 109/0, India were reduced to 119/5. The game had suddenly come alive. The series had finally come alive.

In space of 13 balls, Sri Lanka had scripted a complete turnaround. None of Dananjaya's 1627 balls in List A cricket prior to this day would have seemed more threatening.

There was more to come.

Dananjaya completed his maiden ODI five-wicket in the next over when he beat Hardik Pandya's inside edge in the next over. This time though, the keeper was made to work. Dickwella had ages to complete a stumping and by then everyone had set off in wild celebrations.

Axar Patel walked in anticipating the googly every ball. He looked dazed and Dananjaya trapped him in front with a slider nine balls into his innings. Dananjaya was bowling a dream spell and India were in tatters at 131/7. The Lions were well in the driver's seat with Dananjaya still having four overs up his sleeve.

No other Sri Lankan bowler had even threatened to take a wicket. The selectors had invited criticism when they made strange changes for the Pallekele ODI with Dananjaya and Siriwardana replacing Lakshan Sandakan and Wanidu Hasaranga. It seemed harsh on the two young spinners who were dropped. But Sanath Jayasuriya and co struck jackpot this time around.

Siriwardana smashed a half-century and even took a wicket. Dananjaya, meanwhile, had picked up six and was now eyeing Chaminda Vaas’ record of 8/19.

And then, Tharanga did the unthinkable.

He took Dananjaya off the attack after Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar negotiated two tricky overs from the spinner. Probably thinking that Malinga’s slower varieties and Chameera’s pace could make an impact against the tail. But Bhuvneshwar looked composed with Dhoni manning one end.

Tharanga persisted with Malinga and Chameera, brought in Vishwa Fernando and then Siriwardana; but there was no sign of Dananjaya.

When Dananjaya finally had the ball back in his hand, India needed 39 to win and Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar had settled in quite nicely. The Sri Lankan spinner seemed to have lost the momentum and was even hit for a couple of fours in his comeback over.

He was taken off again and returned with just eight runs needed to win. Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar pulled it off easily.

How did Sri Lanka squander this advantage? Was probably one question that would have bamboozled every Sri Lankan fans' minds.

Dananjaya had scalped six out of seven Indian wickets and had single-handedly scripted the turnaround. The Sri Lankan fans would have been craving for the mystery spinner to bowl from both ends if the cricket rulebook allowed. Instead, he was somewhere on the grassy patches of the field. He had figures of 8-0-39-6 but then was forgotten. It was an error on part of the captain which transcended into a heartbreak. Amidst adversity, Dananjaya showed them how to fight. Sri Lanka lost the match but ended up unearthing a new gem.

Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017

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