Jul 17, 2020

I was ignored during my peak – Tharanga Paranavithana

The role of a quality opening batsman has become an important aspect in world cricket during the past three decades. Sri Lanka has been struggling to find a consistent opening combination in Test cricket ever since the departure of the formidable opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu. This is a story of an underrated opening batsman who was failed to do justice to his talents and potential he showed early in his career.

featTharanga Paranavithana displayed a keen interest towards the game from an early age, his enthusiasm and passion growing while playing cricket along with his three brothers in their backyard.

“I can still remember the days when we used to play cricket in our backyard and as time went by my brothers motivated me to be a professional cricketer,” he recalled during an interview with the Sunday Times.

The first cricketer to represent Sri Lanka from St. Mary’s College, Kegalle, he blossomed under the guidance of Lalantha Liyanarachchi (Under 13) before being groomed by Sanjeeva Jayasinghe who nurtured his skills until he left school in 2001.

He had a prolific record in school cricket. In 1999 he scored 1,000 runs in a season and won awards for Best Batsman and Best Cricketer from Outstation for two consecutive years (2000 and 2001).

The turning point of his career came in 2001 when he was selected to play for SSC, after he scored 1,460 runs including seven centuries and one double century in nine matches in his final year of school cricket.

It was tough to get into the SSC team led by Mahela Jayawardene as he had to compete with players such as Marvan Atapattu, Avishka Gunawardane and Thilan Samaraweera. Nonetheless he proved his mettle by playing for six years and being one of the leading run scorers for SSC.

Paranavitana was in majestic form in the 2007-08 domestic season, stroking three centuries during SSC’s successful campaign accumulating 893 runs.

His hard work and commitment saw him being picked for the national team’s tour of Pakistan in 2009.

For a cricketer, representing the country at international level is the ultimate dream. What was supposed to be an exciting debut Test series for Paranavithana unfortunately turned out to be a nightmare for him and the entire cricketing world.

It was the third day of the Lahore Test. It was the day when the Sri Lanka team was ambushed by a group of terrorists. Paranavithana was among the players who were severely injured by the attack.

“We were fielding on that day. So we left the hotel early to do our fielding drills. As we were heading to the ground we heard a loud noise near the roundabout and our driver stopped the bus. We didn’t think they were shooting at us. Suddenly the glasses shattered and then only we realised that the gunmen were shooting at us. Everyone in the bus was panicking and I was kneeling down. Every one shouted saying that they were being attacked. We prayed for our lives,” he recalled.

Paranavithana was struck by two bullets to his chest. At the first instance he got a sudden jerk and he didn’t feel any discomfort. But a few moments later he saw his T-shirt being coated with blood. He said that he didn’t have enough space to lie down, adding he could have escaped without an injury if the bus had enough space to lie down.

He praised the bus driver Mohammad Khaleel for his bravery during the attack. Before that Dilshan had shouted to go fast. Then the driver had squeezed through the other vehicles and he was able to save the lives of the Sri Lankan players.

He does not carry many mental scars of the incident, being thankful for the fact that no lives were lost during the terror attack.

In fact 14 months after the incident, he scored his first century at Galle against India. It was a special occasion as it was Muttiah Muralitharan’s farewell Test. Paranavithana followed it up with another century at the SSC.

The gritty left hander played a majority of his Tests against Pakistan. However, he didn’t have the opportunity to play against countries such as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. He believes that he could have had a better average, if he had played against all Test nations. Considering the formidable bowling attacks that he had to deal with throughout his career, he has performed commendably to keep his average over 32.

He played his final Test against New Zealand in 2012. The selectors wanted him to improve his strike rate, he says. He believes that he had the ability to make a comeback, considering the state of the national team for the last seven years. After being dropped from the Test squad he continued scoring runs heavily at domestic level at a decent strike rate and hoped he would earn a recall to the national team. But ironically the selectors ignored him despite his consistent performances.

He strongly believes that batsmen display their maturity between the age of 30 and 35. So he thinks that he has missed out on showing his capabilities at the peak of his career, noting that the selectors must make the players aware on the criteria that they need to fulfil if they are to be considered for the national team in all formats.

He was disappointed that he was considered only for one format. The selectors didn’t recognise his abilities in the shorter formats, he lamented, though he had an average of 42 in List-A (50 over) and became the best batsman twice in the T20 format.

He has decided to call it a day after 19 years as a professional cricketer.

“I tried making a comeback for eight years and I feel this is the right time to leave. My ambition is to pursue a career as an umpire. As I have the passion and the enthusiasm towards the game, I believe I have made the right decision at the right time,” he said.