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No Sri Lankan batsman judged length better, or was as crafty as Aravinda De Silva

By Harsh Thakor* 

Diminutive at 5ft.3 inches, Aravinda De Silva of Sri Lanka was amongst the most talented or craftiest batsmen of his generation or of all time. Possibly in his era, he was the most technically correct of all batsmen. Few ever surpassed his pure, technical finesse.
On bad wicket or in a crisis Aravinda was the ultimate man to resurrect a team from the grave or stitch a team’s wounds. He was equally effective in defence and attack, blending them to perfection.
On his day, he simply propelled a cricket ball with a magic touch and was as attractive as anybody. His strokes possessed a rare chemistry, reminiscent of a lotus blooming. Aravinda had the ability to manufacture strokes of his very own.
On bad wickets, Aravinda could display mastery in the class of Lara or Tendulkar.Few were ever more effective in manipulating the strike or propelling an innings with tail enders. In run chases he was as enduring or durable as the very best.
De Silva blended the solidity and technical organisation of Sunil Gavaskar, with the aggression and innovation of Viv Richards. He was a concoction of oriental artistry with classical English style. He perfectly blended a natural wristiness with natural timing and razor sharp r reflexes.
At best, few could more effectively, singlehandedly carry a team’s batting on his shoulder, or script famous victory.
For the ultimate big match, Aravinda was the ultimate connoisseur. In both test and ODI cricket Aravinda was responsible for propelling Sri Lanka to its most spectacular victories.
In run of the mill contests, he often got bored, but when the going was heavy Aravinda never lost his nerves.
He scored the bulk of his runs, square of the wicket, cutting, pulling and hooking, with characteristic elegance. Aravinda’s cover drive of the backfoot ,was almost as pleasing to the eye with that of Sachin Tendulkar.The repertoire of his strokes was as diverse as the different colours of rainbow.
He was also a useful off break bowler.
Aravinda was one of the principal architects of Sri Lanka establishing itself on the cricketing map of the world or blossoming as a major cricketing power.Few ever made such a contribution to shaping the face of nation’s cricket.

Best batting

The memories of his batting in the 1996 world cup are simply inextinguishable in my memories. Aravinda in that edition, in the semi-finals and final epitomised batting skill, domination or virtuosity to heavenly regions, cutting, pulling, hooking and driving in a majestic manner. He blended the skill of an engineer with the creativity of painter. Above all, they sealed the coveted world cup title for Sri Lanka.
In Kolkata when scoring 66 in the semi-final against India, on a pitch with uneven bounce which was a nightmare for batsmen, De Silva reminded one of a surgeon performing an operation on a patient considered incurable or someone drilling a borewell in a desert. It was worth a century, when you consider the conditions. One of the finest innings in World cup cricket overcoming adversity.
In the final at Lahore against Australia he gave one of the most clinical executions of batting ever seen in a world cup run chase or ODI tournament final. In a most majestic manner he propelled his team, escalating the scoring rate with the surgical precision of an army battalion, to deliver the perfect knockout punch. It was beauty epitomised, witnessing Aravinda flicking the ball from the offstump past square leg.. Possibly no innings in a run chase in a world cup final, surpassed it, in terms of clinical precision.
Rarely has the spin bowling genius, Shane Warne, been at such a receiving end, or dispelled or punished with such conviction. I also can’t forget the manner in which he clobbered the likes of Paul Reiffel and Glen Mcgrath. Very rarely has any batsmen pulled the wool out of the eyes of the Australian team as Aravinda did here. He also captured 3 wickets, thus becoming the only player to score a century and capture 3 wickets, in a world cup final.
I can never forget how in 1998 Sri Lanka were cruising home to victory in an ODI tournament final against India ,before his dismissal, after which his side was bundled out. I also cherish memories of his majestic bating in an epic run chase at home in 1998.His 167 ,in Australia ,was also a classic.
In 1989, in Australia, his 167 at Brisbane and 75 and 72 at Hobart, constituted one of the most illustrious batting performances, by a batsmen from the subcontinent, taking conviction to heights rarely transcended. Desilva averaged 104.66, the highest ever by a batsmen from the subcontinent, i n a series in Australia.
In 1991, his 267 at Wellington, ranked amongst cricket’s classics. Overall in that series, few overseas batsmen were ever as dominant, on a New Zealand tour.DeSilva averaged 98.60,which was staggering.
In 1997 playing against Pakistan at Colombo, De Silva carved two classic unbeaten centuries, after scoring 168 in the preceding test. He simply looked as invincible as any great. Rarely has any batsmen .so single-handedly dominated or carried the mantle of team’s batting on his shoulders.Desilva averaged a staggering 216 in that series.
Later in 1997, against India, he was consistency personified, plundering 3 centuries in succession. Overall, he averaged a phenomenal 130.66.

Evaluation

Aravinda concluded his test career scoring at an average of 42.97, with 22 fifties and 20 centuries. At home he averaged 52.22, scoring 3290 runs, and away averaged 36.06 scoring 2993 runs. This could be held against him, when comparing him with the all-time greats. He averaged around 38 in Australia, around 36 in England and 25 in India. However one must consider or weigh the batting strength of the team Aravinda represented and the extent the burden fell upon him.
Aravinda captured 29 test wickets. In matches won he averaged 54.33 while in drawn games, 64.36, where he aggregated 3154 runs. This illustrated that he was master in batting for your life. In ODI’s he scored 9284 runs at an average of 34.90, scoring 11 centuries .Remarkably, in games won, he averaged 50.56, scoring 4905 runs and 8 centuries. He was an outstanding match-winner in ODI’s.He had remarkable strike rate of 81.13.He also had a haul of 106 scalps with the ball.
In terms of pure natural ability, Aravinda De Silva is at the top of the pedestal, amongst Sri Lankan batsmen. .
Overall I would tag De Silva as a truly great batsman, with his figures not doing him complete justice. In my view, he was on par with Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara ,with marginally more natural ability
Fascinatingly in the late 1990’s, late cricket writer Rajan Bala, classed Aravinda De Silva, as technically, the most correct batsmen in the world.
Possibly, Aravinda had disadvantage of playing for a weaker side like Sri Lanka. Arguably Aravinda at his best, or in term sof natural ability ,was in the class of a Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting . Playing for a stronger side, he may well have averaged close to 50.
In terms of pure natural ability, Aravinda De Silva is at the top of the pedestal, amongst Sri Lankan batsmen. No Sri Lankan batsmen judged length better, or was as crafty. Overall I would tag De Silva as a truly great batsman, with his figures not doing him complete justice. In my view, he was on par with Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara ,with marginally more natural ability.
.John Woodcock selected him amongst his 100 best of all time, but Cristopher Martin Jenkins excluded him. I would just scrape Aravinda in my list of 100 best cricketers of all time and possibly in the best 50 batsmen of all..
To me Aravinda is an equal of an Inzamam Ul Haq, Mark Waugh or Ted Dexter ,and one notch below a Lara or Tendulkar. Potentially he was match-winner in the Lara class or a man for a crisis like Alan Border or Javed Miandad. Mark Waugh and Inzamam Ul Haq had more flair or fluency but not as adept as Aravinda in batting for your life.
Aravinda rated Viv Richards as the best batsmen and his role model and Richard Hadlee as the best pace bowler he ever encountered, with Wasim Akram a whisker behind. He also revered Javed Miandad in a crisis and the flawless technique of Sunil Gavaskar.
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*Freelance journalist



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