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07 February 201609:14 By Sidhanta Patnaik, Mirpur

Asalanka – leading by right, leading by example

The Sri Lankan captain and Brad Taylor, his English counterpart, have been among the best leaders on view at the World Cup

Asalanka – leading by right, leading by example - Cricket News
The captains at the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016 have been constantly asked if their leadership role at this level is mostly ceremonial, as the coaches seem to do the real planning, or do they have a significant say in how things go.

It’s a difficult question to answer for a teenaged leader. The best way to express themselves is to put up strong individual performances and lead from the front. Among the eight teams that made it to the quarterfinals, no one has done that quite like Sri Lanka’s Charith Asalanka.

Man of the Match in wins against Canada (76) and Afghanistan (71 and 2 for 18), Asalanka’s real worth was clear when he got out for 13 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka went down by 23 runs in a chase of 213.

That the boy from Galle is a good player reflects in his confidence off the field. Seeing him answer questions for a Sri Lankan television channel, you would not be faulted for drawing parallels with Mahela Jayawardene or Angelo Mathews.

“I have been captaining the team for two years now and have become confident with experience. When I go to the middle, I feel very relaxed and do my things,” says Asalanka, who was Sri Lanka’s Schoolboy Cricketer of Year 2014-15 while representing Richmond College. “I have a responsibility towards my team, like I have towards my family, and I have to perform consistently.”

Avishka Gunawardene, the former Sri Lanka opener who is the team’s assistant coach, rates Asalanka highly. “The difference is he is quite mature and learns very fast than the others,” Gunawardene told Wisden India. “He knows his game, he reads his game more than anyone else. There are other good players in the team also, but we all think he is bit in front of the others.”

Having come through the age-group structure where he has led Sri Lanka at the Under-15 and the Under-17 levels, Asalanka looks up to Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara because of their ability to handle “pressure on the field and media”, and loves to play the cover drive.

Before coming to Bangladesh, Asalanka drew inspiration from the addresses by Jayasuriya, Kumars Dharmasena and Aravinda de Silva to the U-19 team. “The player who scores under pressure is the hero, they told us,” he says, even as he blushes when we ask him if he is this team’s hero.

Son of a fish merchant, Asalanka loves eating tuna. He doesn’t know what fish he has eaten in Bangladesh so far, but is fine with that as long as they “taste good”. Asalanka also doesn’t know the meaning of Rab ne nana di jodi – his favourite Hindi song. When we tell him that it means ‘God has made the match in heaven’, he smiles and says he will share the meaning with his girlfriend on returning to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s departure schedule is dependent on how they perform in the quarterfinal clash against England Under-19 at Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Sunday (February 7).

Like Sri Lanka, England, too, have been led well by their captain, Brad Taylor.

Taylor, the offspinner who looks up to Graeme Swann and Moeen Ali and has interacted with Robin Smith, Dimitri Mascarenhas and Shane Warne in the Hampshire setup, has managed just one wicket in three games, but has been quite sharp with his captaincy.

Callum Taylor, the part-time medium pacer, had not bowled against West Indies, but, looking to finish things off, the captain brought him on the 22nd over, and the bowler picked up three wickets in three overs to hasten England’s 129-run win.

Even as skippers are being asked about their identity in the U-19 setup, Taylor separates himself further as a bowling captain, a rare species in international cricket.

So, how does he divide his attention between his own bowling and setting fields for the other bowlers?

“When I am bowling, I just leave the captaincy to Dan Lawrence and just bowl,” explains Taylor, even as he admits that he has grown as an individual by leading the team in the subcontinent. “I finish my over and go back into captain’s mode. It’s good to have a different perspective when you are bowling. I have done this for a few games now, and it’s become my second nature almost.”

Taylor, whose father Paul Taylor is a Level 3 coach, laughs when we ask him if he sees himself as a future England captain, before saying, “Hopefully, hopefully.”