It was a gamble the Sri Lankan selectors took before the five-match series in India and it paid off. Upul Tharanga, dropped early last year following a patchy run, was given a chance to open with Tillakaratne Dilshan ahead of Sanath Jayasuriya. The 24-year-old has scored over 450 runs in nine matches since then. He’s played the perfect foil to the explosive Dilshan and, in his quiet but authoritative way, has made someone like Jayasuriya look rather redundant.
HT caught up with him after Tuesday’s practice session. Not too keen initially — the left-hand batsman actually tried to give a slip — but when coach Trevor Bayliss asked him to speak, he opened up. “Learn to talk to the media,” Bayliss told him. “Thank you, coach,” Tharanga replied with a wry smile and started the interview.
How difficult was the comeback?
I played for two years for Sri Lanka before being dropped. But I knew I was good for this level. All I had to do was get runs, especially for the A team in the Emerging Players tournament. I did that and waited. I missed two-three series and then got a chance against India. I am happy to be back.
You have replaced Jayasuriya in the opening slot. Do you feel extra pressure because of that?
No one can replace Sanath. I am just focussing on my batting. He (Jayasuriya) was very happy when I scored runs and came and congratulated me in India.
How difficult is it to not get carried away, with Dilshan making bowling look easy at the other end?
Opening with Dilshan actually helped me. The bowlers concentrate on him and the pressure is off me. With Dilshan shattering their confidence, I too get a lot of loose deliveries. So it’s actually easy.
Who played the most crucial role in your comeback?
I worked a lot with Chandika Hathurusinghe in the A team. He told me to play my natural game. I was going out there thinking of survival and getting restrained in the process. I started taking a lot of pressure and it made things worse. He changed my mindset and attitude. Guys like Mahela (Jayawardene), Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara) and Trevor too gave me a lot of confidence.
You were picked for the Sri Lanka squad days before the tsunami in 2005…
Yes, my sister had called me up to tell me not to come home as the water was entering our home in Ambalangoda. I stayed back at the club gym. A couple of days later, I heard our house had been washed away. I lost my house and everything. It’s like starting a new life.