Atapattu calls the youngster “positive, free and energised”, and Siriwardene expects her to do her job once she quits | ESPNcricinfo.com

Atapattu calls the youngster “positive, free and energised”, and Siriwardene expects her to do her job once she quits | ESPNcricinfo.com

A Dilscoop for four in the penultimate over of a nervy chase against India in just her second international match made heads turn. A wily run-out in her delivery stride to dismiss South Africa’s Sune Luus for leaving the crease at the non-striker’s end became a talking point. Only a year into her international career, Sri Lanka’s spin-bowling allrounder Kavisha Dilhari had made quite the splash with her pluck, smarts and offspin darts – enough for Chamari Atapattu to identify her as one the “most positive, free and energised cricketers” she had “ever seen play for our nation”.
“I feel she is like me; in my little age, I used to be like her – aggressive, wanting to do more, wanting to prove myself through my cricket,” Atapattu told ESPNcricinfo as she watched Dilhari go through a lengthy nets session at the Murdoch University Field in Perth last week. “That Dilscoop was one of the most audacious things I have seen a teen cricketer pull off.
“I know she’s positive, but I didn’t expect her to Dilscoop a pacer with such ease. That was special, as were the wickets she took of the dangerous Harman [Harmanpreet Kaur] on that tour; I scored a hundred in that match, but it was Kavisha who turned the game in our favour with that over, that shot; she won my heart.”
Atapattu is not the only Sri Lanka player to gush over Dilhari, now 19 and playing her second T20I World Cup.
“I am going to retire [from international cricket] after this World Cup,” senior offspinning allrounder Shashikala Siriwardene said, “and I feel she is the one who will fulfill my role in the team. When I came into the side, my passion for the game and, of course, my skills, were quite similar to hers. She has the talent and tenacity to serve Sri Lanka cricket for a long period.”
A native of Rathgama, the southern village close to Galle town, Dilhari’s journey from playing cricket for several years with just two pairs of training pants to being among the 20 centrally contracted players has demanded resilience from the young allrounder both on the field and off it.
“When I was 14, my father bought me two sets of pants – really cheap ones – from Colombo, so I could start training,” Dilhari said. “But even then it ate considerably into the modest income he would earn from fishing. But he realised I must start early. He would see me grow eager by the day to get into a formal set-up every time I read some newspaper article on Inoka Ranaweera [the left-arm spinner] and her,” she adds, pointing coyly at her idol Siriwardene, who volunteered to play interpreter for this interview.
“She is one of the best young players in Sri Lanka, in the world and I trust her to be one of our bests of all time. I know her talent and potential, so I explained why it’s important to get her back into the side.”
Chamari Atapattu on Kavisha Dilhari
“This is my second World Cup, and she [Siriwardene] will soon be gone, but I don’t think I would have been playing this tournament here in Australia had it not been for the support of seniors like her, the captain, and others who guided me through my recent injury layoff, the most difficult, testing phase of my career so far.”
A beneficiary of the SLC inter-school structure and the charity organisation Foundation of Goodness, Dilhari started out as a right-arm medium-pacer but switched to bowling offspin on the advice of her school coach Mahesh Sandaruwan. The decision fast-tracked her graduation to the national level but played a part in an injury that grounded her for over seven months.
“At an SLC Under-19 inter-school tournament in 2015-16, I took three-wicket hauls in the semi-finals and final for Devapathiraja College,” Dilhari recounted. “A coach in my school said SLC were looking for young spinners for the 2016 T20 World Cup in India and my offspin was key as I started getting noticed around that time.”
A call-up for a national camp materialised that year, where “the exposure, and knowledge received on spin bowling and batting became pivotal”, by Dilhari’s own admission, towards her debut for Sri Lanka in a home ODI against Pakistan in March 2018. A year on from stepping on to the international arena, though, a problem emerged. A stress fracture.
Unnoticed – and indiscernible – to some degree, remnants of her front-on, open-bowling pace action could have played a part in in the injury, which she sustained on the left of her back during a practice match against England at home in March last year. “I was just 17, so I thought my career as a spinner would take a blow if I couldn’t be part of the England series,” she said. “But my seniors made me see merit in the decision to just focus on regaining fitness without thinking of what is, at the end of the day, part and parcel of every athlete’s life.”
Overcoming the disappointment of missing top-flight international cricket for a protracted period, Dilhari put her mind into recovering in time to thrust herself back onto the selectors’ radar. With help from team physio Tasneem Yusuf and head coach Harsha de Silva, she changed her action to a more side-on one, “a big step towards a comeback”. The four-team Asian Cricket Council Women’s Emerging Team’s Cup in October last year, where she finished as Sri Lanka’s leading wicket-taker, marked her return to competitive cricket. A month-and a half later, the South Asian Games Women’s Cricket Competition where Sri Lanka finished runners-up to Bangladesh, brought more game-time in a largely uncertain lead-up to the T20 World Cup squad announcement.
“Just after her injury, she was struggling both as a bowler and batter. Her all-round performance fell because she didn’t get much time to practice,” Atapattu recalled. “But after the Emerging Cup, I spoke to her because a lot of the Sri Lankan management said she is not good.
“But I told them that we have to back her; she is one of the best young players in Sri Lanka, in the world and I trust her to be one of our bests of all time. I know her talent and potential, so I explained why it’s important to get her back into the side.”
Coach de Silva echoed Atapattu’s words after Sri Lanka’s T20 World Cup opener last week. “Her recovery took longer than expected, but I think with her the strength is her consistency with the ball, the control that she has,” de Silva said after his side’s match against New Zealand where Dilhari picked up the wicket of veteran Suzie Bates. “She has the potential to become probably a good like a good all-round cricketer in the future.”
An admirer of Nathan Lyon, Dilhari, who counts her Dilscoop moment among her favourite experiences in her nascent career so far, said her time away from the competitive circuit had taught her to embrace the uncertainties of international cricket.
“I try to think back about my good performances when my morale is down,” sh said. “That’s what I did when I was out of the side for so long. The Dilscoop, that dismissal (of the non-striker backing up), the wickets, the injury – everything is part of my journey. My dream is to get the team into the top four rankings across formats. If I am able to do that, I know it will be all worthwhile and I would also be able to fulfil a major part of my other dream: to become one of the world’s best allrounders.”

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