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Sri Lanka's white ball captain Dasun Shanaka in an attacking mode during their T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE last year. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata: Dasun Shanaka, who? It was the reaction when the wiry allrounder, not really a star material in the Sri Lankan set-up, was named captain for the entire white ball set-up when India toured the island nation last July under Shikhar Dhawan.

He will still come across a lightweight captain when he steps out to toss with his illustrious counterpart Rohit Sharma in the first of their three-match T20 series at Lucknow on Thursday, but he has held his own admirably with a young team after being thrown at the deep end of the tunnel. After losing the ODI series narrowly in Colombo last year despite playing some decent cricket, the Islanders turned the tables on Dhawan’s men 2-1 in the T20s - their firt-ever series win against India in the shortest format.

It was period of turmoil in Sri Lankan cricket when the 30-year-old took over the reins - becoming their sixth captain in less than four years. Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kushal Perera had all captained the side at some point since the start of 2018. A battered Lankan team came back after heavy defeats in England last year with three of their players being sent back earlier due to breach of bio-bubble protocol.

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Just on the eve of India’s visit, the Lankan players were locked in a long standing row with the country’s cricket board over national contracts which ended in the eleventh hour when 29 out of the 30 players signed up for the India series. It is believed that deposed skipper Perera was the one who had encouraged the group to continue holding out, while Shanaka had been among the first players to agree to sign Sri Lanka Cricket’s tour contracts.

No prizes for guessing, Shanaka got fulltime whiteball captaincy almost by default but has done reasonably well in the last eight months. In the last T20 World Cup in the UAE under his captaincy, they qualified for the main stage after some close matches and despite failing to qualify for the semi-finals, surprised the viewers on a number of occasions.

In the build-up to the World T20, Sri Lanka won a ODI series 2-1 away in South Africa under his leadership - their first series win over the Proteas in eight years. Last month, Shanaka scored his first century in an ODI match against Zimbabwe with a gritty 102 after coming down the order. Sri Lanka, however, lost the match by 22 runs.

Incidentally, Shanaka had shown had he would not be fazed with the leader’s role after being named as as a stop-gap captain of Sri Lanka’s T20I squad against Pakistan in an away series in 2019 as they won the series 3-0. He had to subsequently step down but then again in February 2021, Shanaka was named as the T20I captain against the West Indies. However, he missed the T20I matches after he was unable to travel due to visa issues.

‘‘Looking at Shanaka’s role so far, one must say that he has done a decent job. However, there are still a few question marks about him as he is yet to consolidate his position in the ODI team while the senior players will not be favourably inclined to him once they come back,’’ observed Rex Clementine, a senior cricket writer and commentator of Sri Lanka.

It will be a tough job on Shanaka’s hands over the next three matches, now with his attacking lynchpin Wanindu Hasaranga doubtful for the series after testing positive for Covid-19 Down Under.