Dilruwan Perera has been a late bloomer.
After playing his first few games at 25, he was dropped for six years and returned back to become a perfect partner for Rangana Herath. An immediate call-up and being left in the cold could make a young, earnest man’s heart stop. Dilruwan, however, is a trier.
But, his recent failures raise a question is it time now for Sri Lanka to look beyond him for better options?
Amid the smog and brilliance of Dhananjaya De Silva and Kushal Mendis in the Third Test at Ferozshah Kotla, last December, Dilruwan Perera became the fastest Sri Lankan to reach 100 test wickets.
This isn’t a dainty feat; considering players like Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vass and Rangana Herath were beaten by 35-year-old spinner from Colombo.
So where’s Perera now?
Fast forward 6 months and Perera’s has been dropped from the team as Sri Lanka fight to survive in the Tests against the West Indies.
He was replaced by Akila Dhananjaya for the second test at St. Lucia. Uncertainty continues to loom around the offie.
Dilruwan Perera started his first-class career as an 18-year-old in 2000/01 season. That was way back then.
He was first selected for the national team in 2007-08 against a touring English side and later, made it for Tri-Series in Australia in early 2008. He, however, failed to impress the selectors and was dropped into oblivion. For next few years, he continued to churn wickets constantly at the domestic level for Colombo but was kept being ignored by the selectors in favour of spinners likes of Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv.
Where did this leave him?
While Perera was patiently awaiting his turn, at 30, it looked that his chances for Sri Lanka were running out.
Then all of a sudden, he got a call from selectors defying all odds.
It was in January 2014. Aged 31, Dilruwan returned to the national team after a hiatus of six long years.
Most players would’ve stopped even trying in this vacuum of a time.
He made an immediate impact though with the bat making a sturdy 95, and two weeks later, he ripped apart Bangladesh.
Against South Africa, he took 16 wickets and 23 and showed he could perform against a bigger opposition as well. However, his best would against Australia in home series of 2016 when he took 15 wickets in 3 Tests making Australian batsman look bewildered by his variations.
In the second test at Galle, he ripped apart Australian line-up taking his first 10 wicket haul in a Test match. Other, weaker sides wouldn’t forgo the Dilurawan impact either.
He continued consistently against West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and his prowess with the bat meant he could contribute usefully. It seemed, there was an automatic choice to partner Herath.
And in here, after having re-cemented his place lies Perera’s conundrum
In the recent times, however, Perera’s bowling has significantly felt off the radar.
After enjoying tremendous success against Australia in 2016-17, the 2017-18 season saw him fail miserably against India both at home and abroad, Bangladesh and now West Indies apart from a decent series against Pakistan where he and Herath spun them to a historic victory, he never looked threatening.
The 2017-18 season turned horrible for both Sri lanka and Perera. While Sri Lanka had the worst home season Perera lost the form which had made him a player to bank on in previous years.
Against Zimbabwe , a test which Sri lanka somehow managed to win Perera took 4 wickets giving almost 46 runs per wicket.
Against India, he could manage only 2 wickets on 3 tests at an average of 190, his worst series in terms of bowling. While when it looked he was back in form against Pakistan picking 12 wickets in just 2 wickets at 25.66 , he couldn’t sustain his consistency for which he has been appreciated in cricket circles. In India, he failed again taking 8 wickets at 58.62. Did this cost his side a lot many runs? You bet.
Then, against Bangladesh, he took 5 wickets at 50- not the average you would expect from a toppler who left behind Murali and Vaas.
This inconsistency continued in the First Test against the West Indies-1 wicket for 134 runs-and by this time, questions started surfacing whether Sri Lanka should start looking beyond him?
The answer, though, is not as easy as it looks.
Sri Lanka is already struggling after the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene. With Angelo Matthews and Rangana Herath on the last legs of their respective careers, Sri Lanka needs characters like Dilruwan Perera and Suranga Lakmal who could put their hands up anytime the team needs them.
Looking at Perera’s stats- you’d not be unconvinced one bit about his prowess. But cricket demands action in the present- in the current instant. Is Perera delivering on the promise?
This is the reason why in spite turning 36 next month Dilruwan still seems to have few years left in him.
Moreover along with Dimuth Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Kushal Mendis, Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal- while Perera seems an experienced fit, a slew of youngsters in Akila Dhanajaya, Jeffrey Wandersey and Tharindu Kushal are knocking the doors.
So which turn would the Dilruwana Perera story take- only fate knows the answer.
Dilruwan Perera’s record
|Jan 14- Jun 17||16||75||28.58||56.6|
|Jun 17- Jun 18||12||32||53.81||90.5|
Most wickets by Lankan bowlers in last decade, starting 1.3.2008