“A skipper must be prepared to plant some seeds (by spending time with his players after hours) if he wants to reap rewards on the field and become a respected leader. Once he acquires that status he’ll well on the way to becoming a good captain.” Ian Chappell on Captaincy
Cricket’s rich history is littered with great men and great captains, who naturally understood the role and the demands of leadership. Yet flip the coin over and there on the other side are the nearly men, who despite quite lofty status never quite managed to find the role to their liking. Sadly for Tillakaratne Dilshan, history will remember him firmly as the latter.
Dilshan seldom seemed an obvious fit for captaincy-especially following in the footsteps of two of Sri Lanka’s most successful leaders, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkarra. Where both players epitomised a calm, cerebral approach to leadership, from the outset Dilshan appeared to offer something altogether different, perhaps relying more on a sense of ingénue over method.
Sadly hindsight tells us something different. Dilshan’s creative streak struggled to inspire his team, his leadership qualities struggled to shine through and his contributions with both bat and ball became diminished as the burden of responsibility seemed to weigh him down. Under his tenure his team struggled, winning just one Test match but losing every series they played, while even worse their form in one day internationals-where they reached the World Cup in 2011-they lost every series they played under him.
Though Dilshan was also an unlucky captain. He inherited a team which was patently in decline-losing Murali was always going to take getting over-but for the first time in nearly two decades their bowling lacked an edge and their batting line-up, Sangakkara apart, struggled as a unit. That was just on-the-field, off it the team had to contend with political interference, players going unpaid , two coaching changes and a series of administrative cock-ups-things any team would struggle with.
But for all his failings as a captain, the latter days of Dilshan’s regime showcased what has been one of the few positives of his time in charge-the emergence of Sri Lanka’s next generation.
His final match saw a fine cameo from 22-year old Lahiru Thirimanne who hit 69 off 63 balls and debutant Sachithra Senanayake smashed a match-winning six with his first scoring shot in ODI cricket-not to mention grabbing his first wicket too. The previous match had seen 22-year old all-rounder Thisara Perera lead his side home, a player who has featured prominently under Dilshan.
Then there is the most exciting of all Sri Lanka’s young players, Dinesh Chandimal, who played a prominent role in Dilshan’s only Test win with two 50s on debut, and whose potent mix of composure and technique suggest a long and prolific international career lies ahead. Add in the likes of Shaminda Eranga, Seekuge Prasanna and Dimuth Karunaratne, all of whom have made their international debuts under Dilshan, and suddenly Sri Lanka’s pool of emerging talent starts to look far deeper than in the days pre-Dilshan.
As Dilshan himself noted in his final interview prior to his departure:
“In the last few series I gave the opportunity to youngsters, especially in this series, and we saw them doing it [well] for Sri Lanka. I am really happy to do that and to see that they grabbed the opportunities and performed under pressure. I believe in my youngsters, that’s the future for Sri Lanka.”
Despite all his failings during his tenure as captain, this could just be the silver lining to Dilshan’s reign. The experiences and opportunities provided to the young Sri Lankans, not to mention the confidence he had in them at such an early stage of their careers could ultimately dividends sooner rather than later and help Sri Lanka move forward once again.
As Chappell points out above, good captains plant seeds to reap the rewards in the end. Dilshan may not have made a good captain, but the seeds he has planted may yet bear fruit in the years ahead. Sri Lanka may yet be grateful for the small part he played in helping them build once more.