22-year old Pathum Nissanka’s hundred on debut and wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella’s pugnacious 96 solidified Sri Lanka’s outstanding second innings rearguard with a total of 476 that left the West Indies with the challenging victory target of 375 on the fourth day of the first Test on Wednesday.
Picked for his excellent first-class record, Nissanka lived up to the promise as he showed patience and determination to work his way to a well-earned hundred. He didn’t score until he faced his 21st ball, and he proceeded with extreme, self-denying caution after that, making just 18 from his first 70 deliveries. Fluent in his stroke-play, he cashed in on wayward deliveries on both sides of the wicket, but more importantly ran 89 of his 103 in ones and twos.
With hundred on debut, world cricket saw another young batting prodigy from the Island. His first-class average of 67.54 is not just the best among Sri Lanka batsmen, but the best in the world among current Test cricketers.
However, very few in Sri Lanka cricket know that it was country’s Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, who persuaded board officials and selectors to include Nissanka in the team for the West Indies tour, after he was not included in the 34-members preliminary squad!
A passionate follower of cricket, Namal was impressed with Nissanka’s batting prowess. After Sri Lanka’s embarrassing 2-0 drubbing against England on home soil earlier this year, he persuaded SLC and selectors to include Nissanka and give preference to young players.
“He called SLC officials and recommended Nissanka. He believes that the young batsman could be next big thing for Sri Lanka” a close associate of Namal told Cricket Age.
Nissanka justified his inclusion in second test innings itself. It was a typical test innings of sheer determination and composure, filled with proper strokes. After losing overnight partner Dhananjaya de Silva in the first over of the morning, he slowed to a crawl in the second session of the day but finally reached the coveted century landmark just before tea to join Brendon Kuruppu (who completed a double-century), Romesh Kaluwitharana and Thilan Samaraweera as the only Sri Lankans to score hundreds on Test debut.