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Little known Sri Lankan players that stunned India

An army officer, top school cricketers and a batsman who changed his stance for his idol

Image Credit: AP
Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis dives to safety during the ICC Champions Trophy match between India and Sri Lanka at The Oval cricket ground in London.
Gulf News

Dubai: Sri Lanka’s stunning victory win over India through a spirited run chase in the Champions Trophy at the Oval on Thursday was unexpected, to say the least.

The heroes who helped carve out Sri Lanka’s seven wicket win were little-known players like Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Asela Gunaratne. The strokes they played and the composure they displayed against the star-studded Indians was dazzling. Inspired by their experienced captain Angelo Mathews who stood like a colossus with an unbeaten 52, the Sri Lankans displayed the depth of talent in their country.

So who are these players who did not show any signs of nervousness or lack of experience while batting like master-blasters and making the target of 322 look so easy? To boot, Gunathilaka, Mendis, Perera and Gunaratne looked totally unconcerned that their opponents were the defending champions.

Twenty-six-year-old Gunathilaka is an attacking left-handed batsman who adores Kumar Sangakkara. Until the eve of the match against India, he was not even part of the Sri Lankan team. He came into the squad because injury forced Chamara Kapugedara out of the tournament and he got a chance in the playing eleven because Upul Tharanga, who had captained Sri Lanka against South Africa in Mathews’ absence, had to serve a two-match ban for the poor over rate in that match.

Gunathilaka’s 72-ball 76 was his highest ODI score, but is also his fourth half-century in 20 innings. He came to the limelight through the Inter-Provincial Twenty20 tournament for Sri Lanka Schools and then scored heavily for Colombo Cricket Club for a year and later for Sinhalese Sports Club before getting selected for the Sri Lanka A team. He played some good knocks for the Sri Lanka team in the 2009 Under-19 World Cup.

Thirty-one-year-old Gunaratne, who cracked an unbeaten 34 off just 21 balls, displayed his confidence and the strokes he possesses. He actually made the chase easy with two stunning sixes.

Gunaratne, after graduating from Sri Rahula College in Kandy, joined the Sri Lanka Army. In March this year he got a promotion in the light of his performances in cricket and is now an army warrant officer. Probably his brave knock under pressure has a lot to do with his association with the army.

The two Kusuals — Mendis and Perera — who played brilliant knocks of 89 and 47 respectively, are cementing their places in the team. Mendis is only 22-years-old and came to the limelight winning the prestigious Sri Lankan school cricketer of the year award in 2013 but caught people’s attention while playing for Sri Lanka Development XI in the Moin-ud-Dowlah three-day tournament in Hyderabad (India). He hit 255 runs from three innings in the tournament and after being picked for Sri Lanka averages around 37 in Tests and One-Dayers.

Twenty-six-year-old Perera’s inspiration are legends like Sanath Jayasuriya and Sangakkara. In fact, he batted right-handed till the age of 13 and turned left-hander as he wanting to emulate his idol Jayasuriya.

After Sri Lanka defeated India, Mathews spoke about the influence of Sangakkara on his players. “He [Sangakkara] is the king, and we all look up to him. We all get advice from him, all the batters. He taught us a lot of good things on how to play on these tracks. Yesterday the guys met him and took a lot of advice and went out there and implemented it.”