Sri Lanka opener Upul Tharanga has said a consistent place in the national cricket team over the past eight months had empowered his batting, after being picked inconsistently over the past few years.
Tharanga’s third cricket Test century in Galle comes in the wake of an impressive ODI ton in South Africa last month, and a good tour of Zimbabwe last year.
In Angelo Mathews’ absence, Tharanga had also been named ODI captain for the South Africa series, and T20 captain for the series in Australia, when only a year ago, he had struggled to find a place in any of Sri Lanka’s sides.
“In the last two or three years, I was in and out of the side – I’d play one series and then miss another one,” Tharanga said.
“When that happens as a player, it’s hard to keep that confidence. In the last eight months I played continuously, and that’s been key to my mental state. The captaincy in the limited-overs matches has also helped. That showed me that the selectors had some sort of trust in me. In the Zimbabwe tour and the South Africa tour especially, where there were very good bowlers. With the runs I was able to score there, my confidence rose.”
Tharanga said he had especially been disheartened by the seemingly arbitrary nature of his omissions from the Test side – recounting the occasion he had been dropped from the squad after top-scoring in the previous Test, in 2014.
Though his overall average is 34.02, he has scored his runs at 40.90 since the start of 2014.
“I think I’ve only been unsuccessful in one Test since 2014 – a match against India. In matches against South Africa and Pakistan I did score runs. But then, for instance, after I’d hit a 92 and a 45 against Pakistan in one match, I wasn’t even in the 15-man squad for the next series (in New Zealand). I can’t do anything about that. I guess people are entitled to make those decisions. I do accept that there were some failures – and you can’t guarantee your spot – but it’s up to me to be consistent. If you can do that you can expect to stay in the team.
“And that is the key – to be consistent. As an opener, if you get set, there’s no point scoring forties and fifties – that’s not really worth it for the player or the team. What you’re expected to do as a top-order player is get to a big score. ”
Though Tharanga has played in five of Sri Lanka’s six most-recent Tests, he has been moved around the order.
He batted at no. 5 in Zimbabwe, then at no. 7 in South Africa.
With Kaushal Silva now omitted from the Test squad, Tharanga has been asked to open the batting and that is a role he relishes, he said.
“It’s not that easy being moved around, because there are big differences in the way you approach those two roles – opening the batting, and playing in the middle order. As a cricketer, though, I prefer to bat in the position that I’m used to, which is as an opener. I can play with freedom there. Either way you’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and I’m happy to do that.”
Sri Lanka has been harsh to openers in recent years however, with pitches generally favouring bowlers, and tracks in Colombo and Pallekele proving especially helpful to seam bowlers.
As a result, the average opening partnership in the country since the start of 2014 is 22.45.
This is, by a distance, the lowest in the world – seven runs clear of the next-toughest nation for opening batsmen (West Indies).
Tharanga knows he has his work cut out for him, with six further Tests scheduled at home over the next six months.
“Usually we think Sri Lankan pitches are slow, but the new ball isn’t so easy to face the new ball here anymore. If the ball starts to swing, it becomes like England, and since it’s Sri Lanka, often you don’t even expect that kind of movement. In the first five or 10 overs, it’s very hard to make runs. In the second innings, of course, the spinners can sometimes open the bowling and they come into the game. You can’t really go for your shots early.” – ESPN