Aravinda de Silva - Sri Lanka's perennial entertainer

Aravinda 'Mad Max' de Silva's legacy continues to captivate
By Shehan Karunatilaka | June 20, 2012

Aravinda de Silva was a ferocious striker of the ball.
Aravinda de Silva was a ferocious striker of the ball. © AFP/SENA VIDANAGAMA

The knock lasted just 63 minutes. It contained no big sixes and broke no records. It was a modest 66 that ended in the 14th over and is remembered as the most important innings by a Sri Lankan – ever.

Aravinda de SilvaI wasn’t alive to witness Mahadevan Sathasivam, Ceylon’s batting genius of the 40s, nor born early enough to judge the brilliance of the Tennakoons, the Gunasekeras and the Tisseras of yesteryear. But, I was around to endure Sri Lanka’s formative Test-playing years; to suffer through the batting collapses, to yawn at the assembly-line bowling and to howl at the shabby defeats from the jaws of draws.

Roy Dias may have had better technique, Sanath Jayasuriya may have had more firepower; Mahela Jayawardene more strokes and Kumar Sangakkara better stats. But for long-suffering Sri Lankan fans, the mantle of our greatest batsman belongs to one man.

When Aravinda de Silva made his debut in ‘84, Sri Lanka had won just six ODIs and a grand total of zero Tests. By the time he crooned his swan song with a double ton in 2003, we’d been victorious in 32 Tests, 178 ODIs and a World Cup.

He was there for Lanka’s neglected childhood, awkward adolescence and glorious youth. And there it was, mirrored in his mutation from “Mad Max” of the 80s to master craftsman of the 90s.

If Arjuna Ranatunga gave Sri Lankan cricket its cunning, de Silva gave it its class. Our first truly world-class player; a short man with a big hook, a destroyer of worlds and sometimes of himself.

“If I had a brain, I’d really be dangerous,” he said of his early years, in his eponymous biography. Thank the cricketing gods that he developed an astute one and learned how to use it.

Twin centuries against Imran Khan’s Pakistan announced his arrival in ‘85. He rescued our dignity on many a tour, with memorable knocks in one-sided encounters. Like his brazen 167 against Allan Border’s Aussies and his majestic 267 versus Martin Crowe’s Kiwis. And then, in the ‘96 World Cup final, he conquered the team that would dominate world cricket for the next decade with a measured century.

But the innings I find myself often reminiscing, when Sri Lankan cricket embarrasses itself, which these days is quite frequent, is the semi-final against a super-charged India at Eden Gardens.

The score was 2/2. Our terrifying openers Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana were back in the pavilion, removing their pads and shaking their heads. It’s a moment every Lankan fan is familiar with. The start of the perahera or procession of departing batsmen. But not this time. Not on de Silva’s watch.

He credits his father with forcing him to practice mental arithmetic during a run chase. And judging from that innings, he had also brushed up on his physics and his geometry.

He could hold off until the last nanosecond and then nudge, caress or thump the ball to anywhere the opposition was not; bisecting the field at impossible angles while pumping the run-rate up as if it were on steroids.

We all knew de Silva could hook, cut and drive any bowler to any part of any ground. And so did he. But this wasn’t about showing off, it was about getting the job done.

In his youth, he had treated us to too many blistering cameos, premature dismissals and unconsummated 30s. But his innings in Kolkata that day was no uncontrolled explosion. This was calculated slaughter.

66 in 47 balls – Mathematics with a splash of poetry. When he departed, with the score at 85 in 14 overs, a humiliating collapse had been averted and the foundation for a semi-final-winning score laid.

Die-hard Lankan loyalists, the same who spray chat rooms with expletives in defense of Muttiah Muralitharan’s elbow, will claim that he belongs with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. That he was the forgotten batting genius of the 90s.

A case could be made based on the World Cup, the heroic season with Kent, the many centuries against the Wasims and the Warnes, and the six entries in Wisden’s Top 100 Batting Performances of all time. But that case won’t be made by me.

The fact is, he was far from flawless. Effortless at times, yes. Fearless on occasion, most definitely. But not quite the perfection that he could’ve been.

A soft-spoken, earnest man; de Silva was neither a street fighter like Ranatunga, nor a compulsive grinner like Muralitharan, nor a smooth-talker like Sangakkara. He reserved his charisma for the field, though perhaps not as often as he should have.

While his rotund figure did not attract the scholarly interest that his skipper’s did, he was hardly a skilled athlete. At times he gave the impression that the mental calculator had been switched off and that the arms were swinging without aim.

But for two decades, the sight of his balanced posture and his sliced backlift told cricket fans that magic was possible. That it didn’t matter who held the ball at the other end, if de Silva was on song. He would use every weapon, including the one between his ears, to find the boundary or the stands.

He could wield a bat like a scimitar and lead us to the promised land with balls to spare. And for a tattered nation, short on its heroes, de Silva was willing to stand up at his full 5’3” and become one. Sri Lankan cricket may have proved that it could out-play and out-dazzle the opposition. But with Aravinda de Silva, we showed the world that we could out-think it as well.

Shehan Karunatilaka’s novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize and the DSC Award for South Asian Literature.

This article first appeared on The Cricketer magazine and is republished here with permission from the publisher.

© The Cricketer


Sulaimaan's picture
Member since:
3 December 2010
Last activity:
1 year 29 weeks

the best SL batsman ever, Sanga and Mahela only come next.

Natz's picture
Member since:
11 July 2010
Last activity:
2 years 38 weeks

love him!

Ardent Fan's picture

The best batsman SL ever produced & 1 of the best players of pace the world ever saw! Still miss the sheer anticipation of seeing him walk out into the middle every single time & the exhilaration that followed :)

Indika Senarathna's picture

The greatest ever....... I would like to go back to semi final and final of 1996... you should watch it again if you haven't, and youngsters must watch if they want to be......."Another" Aravinda De Silva

amd my list is ...

1 Aravinda
2 Sangakkara
3 Arjuna
4 Mahela
5 Dulup mendis
6 Roy Dias
7 Marvan Attapattu
8 Asanka Gurusinghe
9 Hashan Thillakarathna
10 Thilan Samaraweera

rg's picture

Speachless bros.We still miss that kind of impact player in the team. If you thinking of sanga and mahela are the greatest two produce in SL, you're utterlly disapointing aravinda.I can still remember in his last odi hooking brett lee for six in to the score board (2003 world cup semi final).Want to no more link

Pol Adi's picture

Thank you so much for this. He is the first legend of Sri Lankan cricket....!

chathurangaD's picture

Perfectly said...

HLANGL's picture

The best thing about Aravinda De Silva had been, more often than not, he played according to the situation. Sometimes he failed, and on numerous occasions he succeeded as well, still in anycase he wasn't reluctant giving at least a try in favour of his personal statitics. Had he understood his won potential at a much younger age, may be in his mid 20s at least, he could have ended up with far better statistics as well without curbing any of his flair. In any case, De Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya (I'm backing his Cricket, ..., none of his other exploits which came only later ...) have won many more games for Sri Lanka compared to the current duo Mahela and S'kara whose greatness, IMHO, is pretty much overrated and overhyped purely based on statistics which can only be misleading if not analyzed in detail. The former two had flair in abundance, moreover they never curbed it in favour of mere averages, more importantly they played or at least tried to play accoring to the match situation thus making more influential contributions towards the end results of the majority of the games they played in. While J'ya went ballistic at the top, De Silva steadied the innings in the middle defending solidly and counterattacking as the situation demmanded. J'ya may have had more firepower, he could simply demolish any good bowling unit quite single handedly, while De Silva had been a more conventional and complete material. As a combination, they worked wonders, at least for a few years. Mahadevan Sathasivam may have had all the ingredients to be called a truely great batsman, the same may apply to F.C. De Seram to a somewhat lesser extent, but other than these two pre-test era players I don't see any other SL batsman who's worth to be compared with the duo De Silva and Jayasuriya. C.I. Gunesekara may have been a very good utility player on his day, could bat aggresively and could bowl effectively, still didn't stand much chance to be called a genuine great proven for a long period of time against decent oppositions. Clive Inman had done fairely decently in his first class career, still cannot be considered a great. Arjuna Ranatunga was well known for his competitive skills, had been a very effectively batsman at his peak, but wasn't a genuine great. The same may apply to Duleep Mendis. With all due respect to Anura Tennakoon, Michael Tissera, Roy Dias, ... , they may have been the better ones we had during those days, still were nowhere near any greatness with quite mediocre first class batting records to say the least despite a few decent innings in between.

HLANGL's picture

Apart from his quite effortless pulling and hooking which came quite naturally to him, there was another sign which indicated if De Silva had been in prime form. Though he was primarily a backfoot player, at his peak, his timing had been so smooth to such extent that even some of his check drives raced to the boundary simply bisecting the fielders. I'm quite sure that there had been a few such shots in his famous 47-ball 66 in the semi final of WC'96. That innings, though relatively small in quantity (only 66) compared to other great knocks, had plenty of class, a plenty of quality, that's why it's spoken of even to this day. Though De Silva was not one of the most consistent players you'd find in the game of Cricket, at least for some brief moments during his elite career, he could elevate his game to the heights achieved only by some true greats in the history. As already mentioned, had he understood his own potential much earlier, he could turn out to be one of the true greats in the history of the game.

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