The Sunday Leader

Schoolboy Nets Bowler Scripts Fairytale Career Rise

By Dion Michael

Akila Dananjaya - a fairytale in the making

An unknown schoolboy bowler is now making waves in Sri Lanka with a fairytale career rise after impressing Sri Lanka’s skipper Mahela Jayawardena in a practice nets session a few months ago.
Akhila Dhananjaya Perera (18) – a schoolboy from Mahanama School in Panadura – was one of a battery of spinners commissioned by the Sri Lankan cricket authorities to bowl to the national team players at practice sessions as part of their preparations to tackle Pakistan’s ace spinner Saeed Akmal before the Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka in June.
As it turned out the young bowler who had no previous experience of any club cricket proceeded to bamboozle the country’s leading batsmen with his range of deliveries and thus began the scripting of a fairytale change in his fortunes.
When the young bowler’s name first appeared in the preliminary squad of 30 players for the World T20 tournament to be held in Sri Lanka in September there was the usual plethora of speculations.
Most observers were convinced that the bowler must have high political patronage or at least be a relation of President Rajapakse’s family or one of the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) hierarchy – partly because that was the way in which previous selections had been made.
The fact that his last name ‘Perera’ was shared with many others aspirants to the squad at first created a bit of confusion whether the initials had been mixed up. But it soon became clear that Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera aka Akila Dananjaya was the individual selected.
The fact that Dananjaya had not been even considered for the Under 19 team that was playing in the World Cup in Australia was also strange. What were the cricket selectors doing?
Chief Selector Asantha de Mel was his usual candid self, “We took over the under-19 selections only after the Asia Cup. We were not familiar with any of them because we had not worked with them – the squad was selected by the previous selectors” he said.
So how did Dananjaya get included in the senior squad without having played any cricket even at club level?
“He had impressed the captain and coach so much that they requested for his inclusion and we acceded to their request” said de Mel who confirmed that at that point he had not seen the player at all.
This little gesture of the selectors marks a watershed in cricket selections in the country and must be applauded. The fact that the skipper and coach’s word outweighed any other consideration is a step in the right direction – hitherto the captains and coaches throughout our history have had very little say in the final selections of the team.
Indeed there was a time in our test infancy that team selections were released to the media without even consulting the captain.
To the astute followers of the game, Dananjaya’s inclusion in the original squad of 30 would not have been too much of a surprise.
When the local player selections began for the inaugural Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) Dananjaya was the first local player snapped up in the auction by Sri Lanka Skipper Jayawardena for his team Wayamba United.
The fact that Dananjaya is rated very highly by Jayawardena was evidenced in his use of the bowler in the SLPL where Dananjaya has emerged as one of the leading bowlers in the tournament and certainly the most economical.
Sri Lankan cricket fans had their first sighting of this rara avis in Wayamba’s opening game against Uthara Rudras. Batting first Uthara had blazed their way to 82/1 in just 7 overs at a run rate of 14 runs per over when Jayawardena tossed the ball to Dananjaya.
Moving more like a veteran than a rookie having his first bowl on the big stage, Dananjaya quickly settled into a groove undaunted by the situation. His first two balls were dot balls and so was the fifth – the other three yielded three scratched singles from tentative shots executed more in hope than faith.
His second over had four dot balls and he got so much spin on one delivery that it beat the batsman and keeper and went for 3 wides. He was now in his element and really mixing up the deliveries – off spin, top spin, leg spin, carrom ball, floaters, googlies and the doosra followed as the batsmen faced him with an air of bemusement. He displayed great control and was not at all afraid to toss the ball up and give it plenty of flight.
Dananjaya ended his spell of four overs without a wicket but there was already a buzz in the air and his figures were still very economical at 0/24.
In his second game against Uva Next Dananjaya came on to bowl the ninth over and seemed a little nervous in his opening over in which he conceded 7 runs. In his second over he struck with his third delivery when he had Banuka Rajapakse lbw to claim his first wicket in the big league.
It had taken the bowler 33 deliveries for his first wicket and 11 balls later he had his second when Sachith Senanayake was beaten in the flight and was bowled. He ended with 2/20 off his four overs.
Against Basnahira Cricket Dundee Dananjaya was once more into the wickets with 2/15 in four overs but his fourth game against Nagenahira Nagas was his best effort when he grabbed 3/18 including the prized scalp of Test Vice-Captain Angelo Mathews who was completely foxed by a doosra which knocked back his middle stump.
At 18, Dananjaya already has a wider repertoire of deliveries than the champion spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had at any time during his career. He has already demonstrated that he is not afraid to flight the ball and although he too hates to be hit for a four or a six, he has demonstrated the maturity to pick himself up and produce a gem of a delivery in the very next ball.
In Dananjaya, Sri Lanka has unearthed a gem of the rarest quality who could serve Sri Lanka cricket well; he must be protected and nurtured with the greatest of care.
One thing is certain: his skipper has tremendous faith in his ability and it is a fair bet that when the team for Sri Lanka’s opening game against Zimbabwe in the World T20 is announced the name Akila Dananjaya is bound to be in it. This time around though there won’t be any raised eyebrows!

1 Comment for “Schoolboy Nets Bowler Scripts Fairytale Career Rise”

  1. Srinath

    Super bowler and a good choice by Mahela & Coach. Did not show any nervousness at all in his first appearance. If he was selected to the U-19, the way he bowls, the tittle would have been ours. Those Aussie and Indian teens would have been foxed by every ball Akila send down. Anyways God had different plans for him! To be a national asset for Mother Lanka. Hope he will do well and continue to become the best bowler in the world in near future, like King Murali.

    Srinath Wijeyeratne (Toronto, canada.)

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