Chamari Athapaththu
Womens World Cup

Athapaththu takes it slow and steady


For once, the Sri Lankan batting star didn't come out blazing

Off the first 12 deliveries Chamari Athapaththu faced in Sri Lanka’s final ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 match against Bangladesh at the Nondescript Cricket Club ground in Colombo on Sunday (February 19), she didn’t score.

Anyone who has watched Athapaththu in the middle would agree that this was uncharacteristic. As she herself has said, she takes a leaf out of the Sanath Jayasuriya manual – to score quick runs and then pace the innings – rather than the Kumar Sangakkara approach suggested to her, of starting slowly and accumulating singles.

The left-hander, who celebrated her 27th birthday during this tournament, is a powerful striker of the ball. She leads the all-time One-Day International runs chart for Sri Lanka (1675), is the only one from her country with a century (she has two), and has nearly twice as many 50-plus scores as her nearest competitor.

So when she dispatched her 13th ball of the day for a four through cover, it seemed more like her default mode.

Chamari Athapaththu's match-winning 84 helped Sri Lanka notch up a 42-run victory over Bangladesh
Chamari Athapaththu's match-winning 84 helped Sri Lanka notch up a 42-run victory over Bangladesh

However, that was the last boundary flying off the face of her bat for the next ten overs.Bangladesh’s fielders, both close-in and in the deep, could take some credit for that. But it was also down to Athapaththu setting her mind to eschew risk and pace her innings.

She went on to make a match-defining 84 from No. 3 that took Sri Lanka to 197 for 9 in its 50 overs and set up a 42-run win.

It was an innings of maturity. Ask her how she held back her tendency to hit out, and she laughed and grimaced that it wasn’t easy. Coming in at 39 for 1 in the 11th over – generally an opener, she's been batting at No. 3 for some of the big games – she took it on herself to bat till the end.

“We lost a few wickets early, so that’s why I paced my innings. I tried to bat the full 50 overs. I tried to play slowly,” she explained. She was upset at losing her wicket to the first ball of the 49th over, her feet stuck while swinging at Salma Khatun. If the batters had stuck around, “we had a chance to score around 235,” she added.

The desire to do well got further incentive when a mix-up in the middle had Dilani Manorada run out just when the two were beginning to impose themselves.

“We have a good understanding, both of us, but unfortunately today there was a bit of miscommunication,” says Athapaththu. “She sacrificed her wicket for me. She knows about my skill, my performance, that’s why she sacrificed her wicket.”

And Athapaththu, who teammates describe as friendly and helpful off the field, was keen it wouldn’t go to waste. She had already found the ropes for a six and four either side of the strip, and had been running hard for the twos. She picked up the tempo to get to her 11th ODI fifty in 84 balls with a powerful four down the ground, an area she had been particularly strong in all morning.

“She can play any shot, she’s that kind of player. She didn’t try to hit anything cross, she tried to play straight,” said Shashikala Siriwardene, the regular Sri Lanka captain, who was watching from the sidelines as she nursed her knee back to full functionality.

“Due to the conditions we had today, it was helpful to the fast bowlers. She understood the situation and knew that someone needs to bat throughout the innings today. She was patient – that maturity is what we expect from her. Then she changed her style and she was able to maintain good run-rate in the middle.”

This was Athapaththu’s second fifty of the tournament, after her 60-ball 58 against Zimbabwe. While she has been one of the highlights of the tournament for her team, Sri Lanka has also benefited from other strong individual performances. Its batting – with a stream of left-handers – has been a revelation. In a big Super Six match against Pakistan, it came out positively, completing the chase of 213 with plenty to spare.

The 22-year-old Nipuni Hansika has got good starts up the order, while Prasanani Weerakkody, Eshani Lokusooriya and Manodara have all got fifties. 

Inoka Ranaweera, the captain, who has 11 wickets with her left-arm spin, believed the team’s batting would be one of the takeaways from the tournament. While building partnerships and better handling dot-ball pressure needed some work, the hard work from the last few months paid off, she said. “We had a problem with the batting side and playing England and Australia recently helped us learn. Athapaththu is one of the best players in the team, and Nipuni is a young girl who is also performing well.”

With domestic teammates and family members looking on, it was a commendable performance from Sri Lanka to finish third in the tournament. The girls see this as a validation of the effort put in, and going into the eight-team World Cup in June-July in England as the No. 8 team on the ICC Women’s Championship, they’ll want to prove they aren’t the weakest link.

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