With the 40-year-old left-hander on his last legs as an international player, Dilshan appears to have taken it upon himself to make sure Sri Lanka won’t ever miss Jayasuriya’s pyrotechnics.
All year long, Dilshan has been in sensational batting form at the top of the order, be it in Test cricket, the 50-over format or the T20 slam-bang. Extending his brilliant run to the opening match of the Champions Trophy at the SuperSport Park on Tuesday, the 32-year-old pulverised South Africa with another wonderfully brazen assault.
If his sixth international century of the year, a frenetic effort full of glittering strokeplay and cheeky inimitable innovation, provided the early thrust, then the final push came from Mahela Jayawardene. Without compromising on his classical elegance, the former skipper tore into the Protean attack as Sri Lanka stacked up 319 for eight in their 50 overs.
Seldom can two men be as different in style and approach as Dilshan and Jayawardene, and yet make a similar impact. Where Dilshan (106, 92b, 16x4, 1x6) is audacious and unorthodox, Jayawardene (77, 61b, 7x4, 1x6) is the ultimate classicist who keeps reiterating that there still is place for correctness in the limited-overs game.
Asked to take first strike by Graeme Smith on an excellent surface where the ball came evenly on to the bat, Sri Lanka lost Jayasuriya early, trapped in front by the express Dale Steyn, but that was when South Africa’s woes began.
Dilshan went into overdrive, unaffected by Steyn’s sustained hostility and positively lapping up left-armer Wayne Parnell, even as Kumar Sangakkara quietly played himself in. South Africa bowled with rare generosity, offering too many boundary balls that were promptly put away by Dilshan, who brought out his patented scoop over the ‘keeper to make a strong statement of intent.
A massive crowd, clearly and understandably rooting for the home side, had no option but to admire Dilshan’s craft as the runs flowed unabated. For a brief while, the effervescent Roelof van der Merwe threatened to put the brakes on the scoring, but Dilshan and Sangakkara found other ways of milking the runs as 158 (156b) came for the second wicket.
Smith, clearly rattled by the carnage unfolding in front of him, turned to Jean-Paul Duminy almost in desperation, and his joy knew no bounds when Sangakkara tamely poked the part-time offie back to the bowler. By then, Dilshan had already brought up his third one-day ton, but when he too fell six deliveries later, upper-cutting Steyn to third-man, South Africa believed they had been thrown a lifeline.
Thilan Samaraweera, sent in to steady the ship in Jayawardene’s company, was greeted by Steyn with a snorter and suddenly, there was a buzz in the Protean ranks. For about the only time in the match, South Africa got a grip on the proceedings as Steyn and Van der Merwe bowled well in tandem.
Sadly from a home perspective, that phase didn’t last long. Even as Samaraweera worked the gaps and ticked the strike over, Jayawardene ploughed on almost unnoticed, a little nick here and a little cut there opening up Protean wounds all over again. By the time South Africa realised that the Lankans were unleashing a second wave, too much ground had been conceded, too much damage done.
Jayawardene sped away in truly breathtaking fashion, his inside-out drives over covers off the quicker men a true treat, while Samaraweera played his part, providing solidity and security at the other end without ever holding up the rate of scoring.
Almost serenely, the two added 116 (105b) for the fourth wicket to propel the total towards 300. South Africa picked up wickets in a clutch towards the end, but they sure did come at a price!