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Cricket World Cup 2023

Dunith Wellalage, the Sri Lanka wonderkid set to take the 2023 World Cup by storm

Dunith Wellalage
Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

Sri Lanka might be without Wanindu Hasaranga for the World Cup, but the doors have opened for Dunith Wellalage and you should be excited, writes Sarah Waris.

Since Muttiah Muralitharan last played an ODI game on the fateful night of the 2011 World Cup final, no Sri Lanka spinner has taken more wickets or picked up more five-fors (three) than Wanindu Hasaranga. His 67 wickets have come at an average of 28.77, which falls to 21.81 in the last two years.

Along with Maheesh Theekshana, Hasaranga wreaked havoc in the middle overs, with the duo scalping a combined 62 wickets in 14 innings together. While Theekshana was more economical, giving away just over 4.5 runs an over, Hasaranga thrived because of the pressure that was created, picking up a wicket every 18.5 balls.


Hasaranga also led Sri Lanka to the World Cup by excelling in the Qualifiers, picking up 22 wickets at 12.90 with three five-fors. Theekshana ended with 21 – they were the only two bowlers with more than 15 wickets in the tournament. But just when Sri Lanka began to dream, an untimely hamstring injury to Hasaranga, which initially ruled him out of the Asia Cup and then the World Cup, brought a sense of gloom.

Enter Dunith Wellalage, who promises to shine bright and spread his raw intensity in a camp that is desperately looking for a turnaround in global events. Sri Lanka have not made the knockouts of a white-ball ICC event in the last five attempts and had to go through a qualifying round to enter the upcoming World Cup.

The 20-year-old can be a capable replacement for Hasaranga, essaying his duties in the middle overs, and comes with little baggage. In the little that we have seen of Wellalage, he has remained unawed on big occasions, instead bringing out his best when surrounded by them.

He is also not afraid of accepting his honest emotions, recently breaking down after failing to take Sri Lanka over the line with the bat in a low-scoring run chase against India, where he top-scored with 42*. Another player would have walked away content after picking up his first-ever five-for in ODIs in the first innings, which included the dream scalps of five top India stars, including Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Not Wellalage.

He shed tears and was visibly upset despite playing out a potential career-changing game, because it mattered. Moments later, the lion-hearted spirit gave way to an innocent admirer, as he went went to pose for pictures with his idol Kohli and sought his blessings. It was a scene of pure emotions, one where he probably realised he had arrived.

Having grown up admiring Kohli, he was quick to acknowledge the star who helped shape his journey, and getting his wicket earlier was just the encouragement he needed. When he changed his Instagram display picture with India’s No.3, it further amplified his sincerity towards the sport – at the heart of it, he was a star-struck fanboy, here to take out his heroes one by one.

The youngster, in his short ODI career, has built an impressive repertoire of batters as his victims but sometimes it takes a stroke of luck to take us to where we were always meant to be. We wouldn’t even have been talking of Wellalage if not for the injury to Hasaranga, and he was unlikely to make the World Cup starting XI if the star leg-spinning all-rounder had not been sidelined. But making use of the chances is what makes a star.

Right from his school days, Wellalage wanted to finish off games. It’s also why he improved his batting and worked on his fielding, so his contributions were not limited to one innings alone. Fame came early but he also showed exceptional maturity as a 16-year-old, declining a call-up to the under-19 team in 2018 in order to concentrate on his upcoming exams.

This clarity of thought whilst also being silently confident in his own skills in letting go of an opportunity and believing that another would come soon has allowed him to excel as a leader as well. Picked to lead the under-19 Sri Lanka team in the World Cup last year, Wellalage ended as his side’s top run-scorer and the edition’s highest wicket-taker, besides winning the Player of the Match thrice in six games.

Carlos Brathwaite, a commentator during the event, singled out Wellalage as a star for the future, urging fans to “remember the name”. While the Sri Lankan hopes his career takes a different turn than it did for the West Indian after the words were uttered for him, he also knows that he alone has the responsibility of charting out his future. And the World Cup would be the ideal launch pad.

A country struck by economic and political crisis is in desperate need of a few moments of joy, and while Sri Lanka, realistically, do not go into the World Cup as favourites, the fans still expect and deserve magic for all they have had to endure. Don’t be surprised if Wellalage is at the forefront of their good moments.

To bet on the World Cup with our Match Centre Partners bet365 head here.

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