However, give him a bat in hand and tell him that he’s batting against India in India in a T20I, and he’ll show you what damage he can do. Indeed, few batsmen have tormented India in T20 cricket than Shanaka has in recent times. In his last 5 innings in T20Is, Shanaka’s scores on the Indian soil have been: 47*(19), 74*(38), 33*(18), 45(27), 56*(22)-overall 255 runs at an incredible strike rate of 180.
It’s safe to say that when the man sees India’s bowling, he becomes like a bull in a china shop! It’s a ‘love affair’ that has transcended across India grounds and years-the first three innings came in February 2022, and the next two in January 2023.
Shanaka heroics bring Sri Lanka level
“Two closely-contested games. Once more, the team batting first wins at Pune. Dasun Shanaka’s love for India is of another level…takes his game a few notches higher vs India. #IndvSL,” tweeted former India opener-turned commentator Aakash Chopra.
It makes you wonder, that for all his mastery over India in Indian grounds, why doesn’t he still have an IPL contract? Most of his teammates are raking in the moolah playing for their franchises in the lucrative T20 League, while Shanka, despite dazzling performances in India, continues to be their ‘poor cousin’ in comparison.
Well, much of it has to do with the Sri Lankan players’ partial availability for the upcoming edition of the IPL. Before the IPL auction on December 23 in Kochi, Sri Lanka Cricket had informed the BCCI that its players will be available for the IPL only after April 8, as the Lankans will be touring New Zealand for white-ball series till then. “The Lankan players aren’t available till the second week of the IPL. This is a major reason why they (there were around 10 Lankan players in the auction) weren’t sold this time. He might get taken as a replacement player (for an injured player) by someone. Let’s see,” a franchise official tells TOI.
Another franchise official pointed out that Shanaka’s stupendous streak against India is only a recent phenomenon. In 84 T20Is, he has scored 1305 runs at a modest average of 21.39, with 5 fifties-numbers that actually don’t do justice to his enormous potential. The fact that he has taken just 23 email@example.com (14 of them are against India!), doesn’t support his case as a world-class all-rounder. For someone who started off as a proper allrounder, Shanka has ignored his howling of late-he has bowled just one over in this series, in the second T20I at Pune, in which he took 2 wickets.
“His finisher’s role has evolved fairly recently. Also, when one picks foreigners, they might look at multi-skilled players and I don’t think his bowling would classify him as an all-rounder. Also, if you look at his stats in T20Is, his strike rate is merely 121.62. So, teams may not have prioritized (buying him). But lately, he has done very well to reinvent himself as a finisher, so there could be more interest,” he points out.
Much to Shanaka’s bad luck, amongst those who haven’t bid for him are Lanka’s cricket greats Mahela Jayawardene (former Mumbai Indians coach) and Kumar Sangakkara (Rajasthan Royals’ director of cricket).
Shanaka hails from a place called Negombo, which is just 10 minutes from the Colombo airport. “While most of the established Sri Lankan cricketers have moved out to the city, or they prefer staying close to the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo, he has continued to stay in his village. He studied at Maris Stella, which is a reputed school, but it’s not known for producing many cricketers, and is more into basketball and athletics. He and (Dushmantha) Chameera are the only cricketers it has produced,” says someone who has followed Sri Lankan cricket for a long time.
“He’s a very simple, humble person, who keeps quiet most of the time. He has no ‘blackmarks’ against him, which is rare for modern-day Sri Lankan cricketers. He isn’t tactically a brilliant captain, but he keeps the side together, helps them stay focused, backs them, and is a very good communicator,” he praises.
“He has been able to identify players and give them clear roles, which helps him get the most out of them. For example, when he came in, Wanindu Hasaranga was batting at No 3. He played him at No 5, assuring him that he wouldn’t be dropped due to a few failures, and that’s showing the results. Similarly, he asked Kusal Mendis to keep wickets. Mendis wasn’t very keen to do the glovework, as that would be additional responsibility on him. However, that move helped the balance of the side immensely, and we could play an additional bowler,” he analyses.