Sri Lankan cricket is going through a transitional period. In 2015, the Asian nation lost both Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene to retirement. Two batsmen who were masters of their trade and consistently put in match-winning performances for their country for over 15 years.
As the team continues to regenerate, it seems likely that 39-year-old Tillakaratne Dilshan will be the next player to hang up his bat. The destructive opening batsman has already retired from Test cricket and is likely to move on from the one-day formats in the coming years.
With 22 centuries and 47 fifties in 326 matches, the man from Kalutara has been one of the most successful ODI openers since the turn of the century. In the 20 over format, he was also a key member of his country’s World Cup success in 2014.
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Although Dilshan is still physically fit and contributing with both bat and ball, age will eventually catch up with the veteran. When this time comes, a huge void will be left at the top of the batting order.
With Kusal Perera unable to participate in the tour to New Zealand after testing positive for a banned substance, a relatively new face has been given an extended audition for a long term opening berth.
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Danushka Gunathilaka has partnered Dilshan at the top of the order in the ODI series and after a shaky start, is starting to look like the real deal. In the first two fixtures, the 24-year-old looked nervous and fell for disappointing scores of 8 and 17 respectively.
However, in the third ODI at the Saxton Oval, Gunathilaka put on a fantastic attacking display. Setting up the platform for Sri Lanka to comfortably chase down 276, he struck 65 runs off 45 balls, significantly outscoring Dilshan at the non-striker's end.
The Sinhalese Sports Club player scored freely down the ground and through the off-side, as he fearlessly took on the pace of Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan. Once he had settled into his game-changing innings, his stroke play had all the timing and panache of an international veteran.
The dominance this young player exerted over an experienced New Zealand bowling line-up will surely have impressed the selectors searching for a new long-term fixture at the top of the order.
Already averaging over 36 in List A cricket, with three hundreds to his name for his domestic side, the left-hander clearly has the talent required to succeed at the top level.
Having now tasted the highest level of the sport on tour, Sri Lankan supporters will hope that if Gunathilaka continues to iron out the weaknesses in his game over the next few years, life after Dilshan may not be so bleak after all.
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