Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Positive cricket and a Kiththa Special

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. 3rd Day. 1st Test. Dhaka

Sri Lanka were heavily criticized for their negative batting display in the UAE. Although for the most part, it was proper Test match grinding, being watchful and conservative, after how the Pakistanis came out and chased in the very last innings of the series, it seems to over-emphasize Sri Lanka's general conservative approach. After all, being known as such a flamboyant limited overs side, the expectation is for them to play the same way in the longer format as well, which they tend to do, from time to time.Yesterday was one such day.

Sri Lanka lost only one wicket, and scored 355 runs in 79 overs. By the time they declared, they had managed to push their overall run rate which hovered just above 3 an over for the most part of the innings, to almost 4. Not that Bangladesh bowled particularly bad, but if they want to say they bowled particularly well, they are lying to them selves as much as the BCCI, who have assured the WICB that they will increase their revenue by 100% if they sign the new draft proposal. Maybe their mommys didn't teach them not to take candy from strangers.

Mathews and Mahela started well in the morning session. They saw off any movement off the deck in the first hour, not that there was much to negotiate with anyway, due to the flatness of the wicket and also to an extent due the ability of the Bangladeshi seamers. Or the lack of it, to be precise. Once Mathews got his eye in, and Mahela got his hundred, the onslaught began. Mahela caressed and patted the bowl away to the boundary with the gentleness of a new father. Such is the brilliance of Mahela. He will slaughter you, rip and thread you in to pieces while you seem to enjoy every swift move he makes. He has such deceitful and a charming elegance. On the other end, Mathews used his strong wrists to muscle it around before he threw away another hundred for the taking for the ninety fifth time. Pun intended.

After tea, Mahela gently and mildly strangled Bangladesh's neck,
while Mathews and later Kithruwan continuously and brutally fired at the chest.
Mahela was then joined by Kithruwan, who wasn't going to be as generous as his captain was to the Bangladeshis, and swatted the ball to all parts of the ground, specially through mid wicket and backward point to bring up a 99-ball hundred. If there was ever a doubt about Sri Lanka's positivity, they were erased and severed by the flashing blade of Kithruwan. Sri Lanka had always needed a solid positive number 6, who can punish the bowlers by coming in when they are tired, or take the pacers on when the second new ball is taken, but also have enough ability to push for long innings when the side is 60 for 4. His positive innings had shades of Adam Gilchrist written all over it. An English journalist once said, Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martin were the warriors in the middle, but Gilchrist was the Samurai, with the long flashing blade. The top four will beat you to the ground and have you at their mercy, but it is Gilchrist who will come in at the end and offer none of it, sever your head and end your dreadful misery. On this day, Kithruwan did exactly that. 

His cry for joy once he got his hundred were soon joined by those of Mahela's when he scored a double century that sealed the deal for the declaration. And just like how Sanga watched over Kaushal's innings, Mahela had made Kithruwan his under-study. The seniors had played their part, and the juniors had responded.

Soon after, Herath spun his web around Tamim Iqbal and left Bangladesh with close to 180 overs to bat out, with 9 wickets in hand, to save the test match.

There ends my summery of the day's play. I don't intend to bias my opinion on the innings of Kithruwan although there is a strong will to do so, but since I know I'd regret it if I don't write more on him, I shall do so in the next part of this post.

Hoping to see Herath, Dilruwan, and maybe a bit of Kithruwan spin square around the Bangladeshi batsmen, and hoping for a win,

Catch you after the end of day four.


The Kiththa Special

I got to know Kiththa at the age of 11. It was an under12s pre-season practice game. The Royal U11 side of the previous year had gathered at the College Main grounds for a game against Susumayawardhana MMV, Borella. It was the first time we were playing in full whites and more importantly, since we would play their first tournament in the on coming season, we had been given permission to play at the College Main grounds, for the very first time. The team consisted of the likes of Bhanuka Rajapakse, Ramith Rambukwella, both who would go on to captain the Royal 1st XI side, Maneesha Tantrigoda, Royal's first and only bowler to scalp more than 100 wickets a season, and Chalaka Bogoda, who became one of only two centurions in the history of the prestigious Mustangs trophy game at the time. 

It also featured a new face. Kithuruwan Vithanage. At first, we did not even know how to pronounce his name, as a matter of fact I'm still confused as to whether he is Kithruwan or Kithuruwan. Kiththa is much easier anyway. Royal won the toss and decided to bat, and Kiththa was sent to open the innings. On a ground that most of us barely could hit past the 30-yard circle, Kiththa scored a calm and fluent 46. The new boy had made his mark. But it wasn't until we took to the field that I really saw what Kiththa's game was all about. I used to field at cover-point and Kiththa took his place at cover, two positions we later made our own, during the tournament to come, consistently challenging each other to stop anything hit in the region. 

Somewhere around the 10th over, one of the batsmen pushed towards Kiththa on the the off side, and took off for a single. Kiththa stooped on the ball, collected it and threw the stumps down at the non-strikers end, all in one motion. At 11 years old, and with fielding being my favourite art of the sport, it served me like a bit of magic. I remember telling, who I think was Rajind Pathmanath, at Gully, that this boy is going to play 1st XI with Bhanuka one day, while running to congratulate him. I reminded him of the incident when I recently met him, and to each other's amazement, we had both clearly remembered the event.

Kiththa never looked back from then. He scored heavy. I remember his first fifty, at the Panadura espalande, his homeground and a 5 wicket haul he took with his loopy leg-breaks against Ananda, our toughest opposition that year. He went on to play U15s, U17s and then finally the 1st XI side. Together with Charith Fernando, he rescued Royal from a dangerous position at 5 for 67, athe 129th Battle of the Blues. It was only fitting that both men were awarded the Royal crown, on two separate occasions, Charith for his century, and Kithruwan later, for his performances with the national U19 side, which he vice captained at the world cup.

He's achieved a lot since then. Memories of his knocks against St. Peter's where he belted Chathura Peries, Sri Lanka's National Youth captain, off a hook that went out of the ground and landed on the Colombo University bus halt, how he, Bhanuka, Kusal and Angelo Perera demolished the Kandurata XI to win the Sirasa Schools T20, his countless match saving knocks with Akshu Fernando and Rumesh Buddhika at the Youth World cup, his man of the series winning performance at the U19 Tri Series with Pakistan and Bangladesh, then his back to back centuries for Tamil Union are among a few of my favourites, with the hammering of the Thomian seamers at the one and only Roy-Tho T20 topping the list.

But he's got miles and miles more to go. He's only so far played against Bangladesh, who are probably the worst measuring stick someone could use to sum up a player. An England tour beckons in March, specially after the century, and if he gets to play, will be the true test of his ability. Knowing the man Kiththa is, the hard working, determined and self confident approach will suit him to build a long career, and I could only wish more for him.

My father talks of his time at Royal, when they had Ranjan Madugalle, who was the College's child prodigy who went to perform at the international level. With a strong bias, he calls his long-time batch mate his most favourite cricketer through the ages. Stories of a brilliant and jubilant school era and those of how his mate is the best in his book are never ending. His era has their Madda.

And now, in my era, we have our Kiththa.


  1. Brilliantly written Kumma. And yes, it always makes the game better when we have a player of our own era to relate to.
    We also have the likes of Hashen Ramanayake and Chamika Karunaratne who have a solid chance of getting a place in the national side.