Five times when Sri Lankan batsmen gave bowlers an existential crisis

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Sri Lanka has never been short of raucous batsmen who threatened many a bowler’s careers. From the likes of CI Gunasekara to the likes of Duleep Mendis, Aravinda de Silva, and Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lankan batsmen have always been a thorn in the flesh of international bowlers.

Here, we are going to take a look at all those bowlers who were pummeled insofar as being forced to resort to bowling off-spin, as they soon found that it consumed less energy to produce the exact same result, or to give up their careers altogether.

1. Sanath Jayasuriya & Romesh Kaluwitharana – Manoj Prabhakar

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The Sanath effect pasted all over Indian players’ faces.

Manoj Prabhakar had played cricket for India for more than ten years before he crossed Sanath Jayasuriya’s and Little Kalu’s path in the league stage of the 1996 World Cup. Prabhakar, who opened both the batting and bowling for India, was assaulted initially by Little Kalu as he was dispatched to the fine-leg boundary in his first over. Sanath welcomed the Indian fast bowler’s second over by galloping down the track and lofting him inside-out over cover for a boundary. The very next ball was hoicked for a six over cow corner and the following ball was picked off his toes to the mid-wicket boundary. Prabhakar tried over the wicket, then around the wicket, and then was forced to resort to bowl spin during his second spell. His first spell, which included only two overs, traveled for 33 runs.

Prabhakar was booed by his own crowd, was dropped for the following game and he immediately retired. “Not just me, but every other bowler in that period was struggling to bowl to the Lankans. They were hitting everything over our heads to use the fielding restrictions to the maximum. And the credit goes to Jayasuriya — he was unbeatable and one of the main reasons Sri Lanka went on to win the World Cup,” the victim testified later.

2. Sanath Jayasuriya – Phillip DeFreitas

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Soon after assailing India’s Manoj Prabhakar, Sanath Jayasuriya picked on England’s Phillip DeFreitas, who was once touted to be England’s next Ian Botham, in the quarter-finals of the 1996 World Cup.

Sanath reached his fifty by driving DeFreitas through the off side and in the 12th over of the innings, Sanath hit the piteous English bowler for 22 runs which included a six that landed on the roof of the Faisalabad stadium. 

“Jayasuriya batted as if he were slashing a path through a jungle,” wrote Peter Roebuck for the Sunday Times. Unable to resist the crucifixion, Phillip resorted to bowling off-spin.

3. Sanath Jayasuriya – Shaun Pollock

Pollock bowling off-spin.

Almost a decade since his exploits in the 1996 World Cup, in a test match at the P Sara Oval Stadium in 2006 against South Africa, Sanath Jayasuriya sapped whatever the energy that was left in the insipid Shaun Pollock and forced him into bowling off-spin from a few paces.

Chasing 352 for a win, Sanath made his intentions clear as he scythed Dale Steyn for a four off his first ball. Having let Sangakkara dominate much of the second-wicket partnership, Sanath started ruling the roost when Pollock arrived at the crease.

In the 15th over of the innings, Sanath pulled Pollock for a four off the first ball and then smashed the second ball to the third man boundary. On the third ball, Sanath sashayed down the track and lofted Pollock for a six.

Sanath would hit Pollock for one more six before getting out, but the trauma of his assault ensured that he bowled off-spin for the rest of the day.

Eight years later, South Africa’s captain during that match, Ashwell Prince, would retrospectively describe Sanath’s batting as follows:

[quotes]Jayasuriya was opening, and hitting it to all parts. Dale Steyn was being carved over point, and he came up to me and said: “I can’t bowl at him. I don’t know where to bowl.” Obviously, I hadn’t captained a lot, and I thought: “What am I going to do here?” He’s supposed to be the main strike bowler, even though he was young at the time.[/quotes]

4. Duleep Mendis – Ian Botham

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Mendis hooking Botham.

Well, we have had enough of Sanath Jayasuriya turning fast bowlers into spinners and hence, let’s go back to Sri Lanka’s first test in the English soil in 1984.

Two years since being admitted to test cricket, Sri Lanka embarked on their tour of England to play a one-off test series at Lord’s. Batting first, Sidath Wettimuny got Sri Lanka off to a great start as he stroked 190 runs batting for 642 minutes. Duleep Mendis scored 111 in the first innings.

After bundling out England for 370, Sri Lanka had Amal Silva provide them a good start. Captain Duleep Mendis walked out to bat at number seven and started blazing away immediately. Ian Botham tried bouncing Duleep Mendis and every time the ball was pitched short, Mendis kept hooking Botham out of the park.

“I remember Ian Botham being bullish, particularly about bowling bouncers at them. He was always like that with everybody, but I do remember the team meeting pretty much featured Ian talking about how we would bowl bouncers and catch them out hooking,” said Jonathan Agnew about Botham’s attitude going into the test match.

“Every time we bowled a bouncer it went into the stands. It was a very short boundary to one side. Whenever Botham bounced Duleep Mendis, for instance, the man on the boundary would see the ball disappear over his head,” he further added.

Ian Botham soon lost the plot. Unable to contain Mendis, Botham was forced to bowl off-spin at him. But ironically, Duleep Mendis fell for Botham’s benign off-spin ultimately.

5. CI Gunasekara – Lindsay Kline

Perhaps the first in the spectacular pedigree of attacking Sri Lankan batsmen, Gunasekara was a double international who represented Sri Lanka in both cricket and tennis.

Having been made the captain of his country in 1960 at the ripe old age of 40, Gunasekara hit the Australian chinaman bowler Lindsy Kline for 27 runs in an over, which included three sixes, in an unofficial Test match in Colombo Oval in 1961. This effectively ended Lindsay Kline’s career.