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Sri Lanka v Ireland 2022/23

Niroshan Dickwella’s unwanted world record is revealing but also down to bad luck – does he still have a Sri Lanka future?

Niroshan Dickwella
Abhishek Mukherjee by Abhishek Mukherjee
@ovshake42 5 minute read

Niroshan Dickwella holds a dubious world record and may end up with another. Fortune has played a part in that.

Last month in Christchurch, New Zealand resumed the fifth day on 28-1 in pursuit of 285. They lost Tom Latham at 50, but Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls took the score to 89-2.

Then Lahiru Kumara bowled short of a length outside off, and Williamson edged the cut. Behind the stumps, Dickwella dived to his right but could not hold on to the chance.


Sri Lanka kept striking at regular intervals, and New Zealand needed a run off the last ball. Asitha Fernando bowled short, Williamson – he was still there, courtesy the dropped chance, on 121 – pulled and missed.

Dickwella threw and missed the stumps at the striker’s end. Asitha threw and hit the wicket at the other end, but Williamson had made it. As Indian fans rejoiced, Sri Lanka’s slim chance of qualifying for the World Test Championship final faded away.

Dickwella has not played for Sri Lanka since (he last played an ODI in 2022, and a T20I in 2021). For the next Test match, in Wellington, Sri Lanka replaced him behind the stumps with debutant Dilshan Madushka.

For the Ireland series that followed at home, they dropped Dickwella from the squad. One may argue that his batting form played a role in this. To be fair, there is some merit in that.

Last year, Dickwella came out at 97-5 on a rank Galle turner against Australia and made a 59-ball 58 – the only score above 40 in an innings of 212. Less than a month later at the same venue against Pakistan, he made a 54-ball 51 – the next-best after Dinesh Chandimal’s 80.

However, since the first fifty and excluding the second, Dickwella has batted seven times in Test cricket, for scores of 3, 5, 4, 12, 15, 7, and 0, the last two in that Christchurch Test match.

Beyond the records

For a long time, Chetan Chauhan used to hold the world record for most runs (2,084) and fifties (16) in Test cricket without making a hundred. In the 21st century, Shane Warne (3,154) usurped the first of these, but Chauhan held the second.

Dickwella debuted in 2014, and has – at the time of writing – 22 fifties, some distance ahead of Chauhan’s tally, while his 2,757 runs are within 400 of Warne’s aggregate. These have made him a matter of intrigue whenever he bats.

Both records tell us about Dickwella’s inability to convert fifties to hundreds, though there were at least two occasions – the 80 not out against New Zealand in Wellington in 2018/19 (he ran out of partners) and the 77 not out against Bangladesh in Pallekele in 2021 (Sri Lanka declared) – he might have gone on to get there.

Dickwella gets his runs quickly. He has struck at above 60 in 17 of his 22 fifties (including 70 or higher in 13), but he can play at the other extreme as well. Against New Zealand at the P Sara Oval in 2019, he stonewalled for 161 balls before falling to a spectacular catch in the final session.

But that is not the salient feature of his batting. His 53 Test matches as wicketkeeper are five fewer than Prasanna Jayawardene’s 58, making him the second-most capped Sri Lankan gloveman (Kumar Sangakkara was designated wicketkeeper in only 48 Test matches).

For a team going through a curiously undulating phase, Dickwella has been more or less a constant presence in the squad. Put in a 1,000-run cut-off, and only 15 designated wicketkeepers in the history of Test cricket average more than his 32.68 away from home. For Sri Lanka, it is only Sangakkara.

Yet, it took a short string of failures (seven in eight innings) – and perhaps that dropped catch – for Dickwella to be dropped from the squad altogether against one of the most inexperienced attacks in the history of Test cricket on pitches that have posed little threat to his compatriots.

For the first Test match, Madushka played as a specialist opener and Sadeera Samarawickrama, who had played as a specialist batter in 2017, kept wicket. Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Chandimal, and Samarawickrama all tonned up as Sri Lanka declared on 591-6.

In the second, Karunaratne made another hundred, Madushka 205, and Mendis 245. The ubiquitous Angelo Mathews raced to a hundred as well as Sri Lanka declared on 704-3.

For perspective, their batting average in this series is 143.88, the second-highest in history for any side, after England’s 162.50 against Bangladesh in 2005. Sri Lanka have themselves never averaged a hundred, and this is a side that boasts of the two highest partnerships in the history of the format.

Thus, Dickwella watched as his two replacements – both younger than him – behind the stumps make hay with the bat (one must remember that Chandimal is a bonafide Test wicketkeeper as well), all for a small streak of failures and, perhaps, a grassed chance – all at the wrong moment.

At 29, he still has time on his side… but luck is probably not.


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