Dasun Shanaka is an extraordinary cricketer in an extraordinary phase, not just elevating his own game, but taking care of his Sri Lankan side admirably.
For quite some time since Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan had retired from the international cricket, Sri Lanka struggled to find an aspiring skipper who can lead by example at the highest level until Dasun Shanaka’s appointment. His first assignment, although as a stand-in captain, at the helm was against Pakistan – the then No. 1 T20I side – in Pakistan for a three-match series back in September 2019. Safe to say, it was nowhere near a walk in the park.
But there, with a lowly side, Shanaka’s Sri Lanka pulled off an unthinkable audacious feat. The Islanders whitewashed a well-set Pakistan in their own backyard and in the process, they registered their first bilateral T20I series victory over Pakistan after six years. More importantly, the triumph became more significant because it came just after a three-match ODI series between the sides, where Lahiru Thirimanne’s side could not manage to win even one.
Almost 18 months later, after plenty of chopping and changing, Shanaka was rewarded with Sri Lanka’s full-time T20I captaincy role, replacing Lasith Malinga. He was supposed to lead against West Indies in March 2021 to begin his tenure, but a delay due to visa concerns did not allow him to take the centre stage at that point.
Then, in July 2021 for the multi-format limited-overs series against India, Shanaka was appointed as Sri Lanka’s ODI captain as well, becoming his country’s 10th leader in the last four years. There, the ODI series did not go as they would have expected, but the T20I series saw another remarkable comeback by the Islanders. After going 0-1 down, they roared back to win the three-match series 2-1. Notably, it was their first bilateral series win in 21 attempts against India across formats since August 2008.
Although it came against a second-string Indian side, it was quite a remarkable feat by a team that is no longer considered to be amongst the heavyweights of the game.
Shanaka’s first stern test came at the last T20 World Cup in Oman and the UAE. In that edition, because of the inconsistency over the last few years in the limited-overs cricket, they had to play against the associate nations to advance to the Super 12s. For a country that reached the 50-over World Cup final in successive editions (2007 and 2011) just over a decade ago, it was quite an embarrassing scenario.
But the spirited Sri Lankan side under Shanaka did not seem less motivated at all. They won all three games in the Group stage to join the full-time cricketing nations in the next round and there, they put on valiant efforts in all five games. Although, of five attempts, they won twice, against Bangladesh and the then defending champions West Indies, their defeats against England, Australia, and South Africa were not by big margins either. It indicated after so many drawbacks, they were finally on the right track to revamp themselves.
Thank you Sri Lanka, Thank you my PEOPLE! 🇱🇰♥️ pic.twitter.com/sAODhGHqK3— Dasun Shanaka (@dasunshanaka1) June 21, 2022
Since he took charge, Shanaka’s Sri Lanka continues to reach new heights. The recent outings against Australia at home created another as in the T20I series, after losing the opening two matches, the 31-year-old pulled off a heist in the third. There, chasing a stiff target of 177, Sri Lanka required 57 off the last 17 balls. No team had got to complete that in the last three overs in the international cricket until Shanaka’s carnage, which included five fours and four sixes in his unbeaten 25-ball 54, came, saw and conquered.
Historic series win by @OfficialSLC. Proud of each player and support staff for this tremendous effort. Special mention to all the lovely fans who supported us right throughout the tournament! ♥️🇱🇰 pic.twitter.com/9v8BYv5k1w— Dasun Shanaka (@dasunshanaka1) June 24, 2022
Keeping Sri Lanka’s current political crisis in mind, it was a victory to be rejoiced by all means.
On a side note, everyone in the dressing room wants to bring some joy to our people who are going through a really tough period. We know that many of you watched the match while waiting in fuel queues🥺— Lasith Malinga (@malinga_ninety9) June 20, 2022
Let’s bounce back as a country guys, just like we did in the series💪
But what followed after that in the five-match ODI series was beyond expectations. Australia won the first match by two wickets via the DLS method, and it seemed like they had overcome their previous woes. However, Sri Lanka emerged victorious in the next three to secure their first bilateral ODI series win over Australia after 30 years. Although they lost the fifth match by four wickets, it had little impact.
Around Shanaka, Sri Lanka have Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, and Charith Asalanka to form a newly-looked potent batting unit for the limited-overs cricket. Wanindu Hasaranga, widely regarded as the trump card whichever team (for franchise cricket also) he represents, is their backbone of the bowling attack. Dunith Wellalage, the young Sri Lankan who starred in the last Under-19 World Cup, and Maheesh Theekshana spun a web around Australian batters in the ODIs and the former in particular seemed ready for the next challenge. With Dushmantha Chameera, Chamika Karunaratne, and Lasith Malinga's apprentice Matheesha Pathirana forming the pace trio, the team, as a unit, looks ready for the next T20 World Cup, scheduled to be played in Australia later this year.
To conclude, it is safe to say that they have got all the ingredients at present to recreate the good old days. And moreover, they could not have asked for better team management, consisting of ever-hungry Chris Silverwood and the iconic Malinga, to make that happen.