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Sri Lanka v England

Lahiru Thirimanne: From worst batsman in history to Test centurion in the space of three days

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Cricket can be a funny old game and few will understand its peaks and troughs – especially the latter – as well as Sri Lanka opener Lahiru Thirimanne.

Most would count playing nearly 200 times for your country as a pretty good career, and there have been notable highs. These include a World Cup hundred – 139 not out to help knock off a 300-plus total against England in 2015 – and a Test high score better than the likes of Mark Waugh, Tony Greig, and Larry Gomes.

And yet, after his first innings dismissal for four in the first Test at Galle, hitting Stuart Broad straight to leg slip, people started to wonder, not without justification, if he might not rank among the poorest batsmen to enjoy lengthy Test careers.

The stat that did the damage showed that, for batsmen to play 50 or more Test innings in the top six, Thirimanne’s average of 22.06 was the worst in history, sitting just under the figure of 22.07 recorded by Bangladesh’s Javed Omar in his 40-game Test career.

This comes after a promising start to Thirimanne’s Test career, with the top-order batsman hitting 91 in his eighth Test against Australia in Australia, keeping an attack containing Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon at bay. One game later he notched 155 not out in a run fest against Bangladesh, and his average stood at a relatively head 34.20.

That ton came in 2013, and before the second innings at Galle he had gone seven years and 10 months without another, averaging 18.86 in 53 innings since that Bangladesh Test. He’s been in and out of the side, but you could hardly call him harshly treated; rather, he could count himself lucky to have been given so many chances.

Now, he has gone some way to repaying the faith shown in him. England’s spin attack might be limited, and the pitch might be offering little to the quicks, but with Sri Lanka having batted about as badly as it’s possible for a Test team to bat in the first innings and conceded a lead of 286, there was pressure on their senior players to stand up, and Thirimanne did so in some style.

By the time he was done, fourth man out inside-edging Sam Curran to Jos Buttler, that deficit had been whittled down to 76, and Sri Lanka were daring to dream of setting England a total nudging from small into tricky territory and letting their spinners run riot. What’s more, he’d lifted his average to 23.43, and fifth place in that aforementioned worst averages list. Take that, Javed Omar.

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