Inglorious batting keeps Dilruwan Perera incognito once again

Sri Lanka v England, 3rd Test, Colombo, 3rd day November 25, 2018

If you do not know much about Sri Lanka offspinner Dilruwan Perera, please acquaint yourself with some 100% accurate, rock-solid, absolutely-not-made-up facts about the man.

  • As a reserve firefighter he routinely runs into blazes no one else dares go near. He has rescued nine infants, five cats and - though he hates to admit it - three members of parliament.

  • As a teenager, angered by his school's continued refusal to fix leaks in the classroom roof, Dilruwan broke in at night and set up the class furniture on the roof, as a protest. He was chaired around town by fellow students for his heroism and enterprise.

  • Once, coming across an abandoned nest of baby birds, he ate a whole tree's worth of mangoes and regurgitated them in order to raise the chicks to adulthood.

  • He has a keenly developed eye for the human anatomy, and has helped police arrest dozens of public nudity offenders by looking at grainy social media photos and then picking out the culprits' backsides from a crowd.

Before you start preparing a libel lawsuit, I will confess immediately that all of the above are totally false, but there is a good reason for having made things up, and that is to somehow raise Dilruwan Perera awareness, even by peddling aggrandising lies. Some truths now. Did you know he has now appeared in 34 Tests? That's 11 more than Mohammad Asif. Were you aware he now has 147 Test wickets? That's 34 more than Ryan Harris.

And are you aware that in this ongoing Test series against England, he is the highest wicket-taker, with 22 dismissals, and has very little chance of being caught? You're not, are you? Completely unintentionally, for whom amongst us does not crave recognition, this is just how Dilruwan rolls. Forever overshadowed, perennially underappreciated.

As a cricketer, over the past five years, it is difficult to think of anyone, anywhere who has been more incognito. When he gets a five-wicket haul, which he had done on seven occasions before day three in Colombo, there is always a tastier narrative. Maybe Rangana Herath took four at the other end and broke a record. Or was there a controversy about the quality of the pitch? Someone tampered with the ball, maybe. Someone else was called for a suspicious action. Wonder of wonders, Sri Lanka got their reviews right.

Or maybe, as is most often the case for a Sri Lanka bowler, Dilruwan took a five-for, led the team off the field holding the ball aloft, then the batsmen came out and proceeded to put on one of their show-stopping, history-making, miss-an-over-and-they-are-nine-down collapses. Dilruwan has taken eight wickets in this game, but no one cares, because his team have produced passages in which they have lost 9 for 67, and then 4 for 37.

Even when Sri Lanka were bowling, there was a bigger story - Lakshan Sandakan's two reprieves of Ben Stokes, who was first caught at cover, then at slip, only to be recalled on both occasions because Sandakan had overstepped.

Dilruwan has now been called upon to step into Herath's shoes and lead this spin attack, but in so many ways he is more Herath than Herath himself. Where Herath was kept in the shadows by Muttiah Muralitharan until he was 31, Dilruwan was 36 before he received the spin-leader mantle. Only now does he stand a chance of playing on tracks where Sri Lanka field just one spinner. If Herath's action was a throwback, Dilruwan's is straight out of the 1920s - a brief straight-on amble, a gentle pivot, a velvet delivery.

Dilruwan is not tall enough for it to be an obvious advantage, not short enough for there to be an against-the-odds angle, not slim enough to look athletic, not pudgy enough to be made fun of, and too quiet to deliver newsworthy lines. Herath is a banker, but even that seems too sexy for our guy. He's more like a banker's accountant. Or a banker's accountant's accountant.

His strengths, as a bowler, which are substantial, are plain to see, of course. He bowls an accurate line, keeps it on a good length, reads batsmen well, mixes up his pace, turns some and slides others on to the pad.

If all that sounds too boring to contemplate, perhaps it is worth contemplating Dilruwan anyway, even if in the form of a fabricated fantasy. There Dilruwan stands on a deserted island, shirtless, pecs glistening, spearing a fish from 20 metres. There he sits, an adoring crowd gasping at a feat of strength, as he cracks coconut after coconut between his thighs.

Give him a few seconds of thought on a day on which he took another five-wicket haul. Because next time he does it, there might be a flood, or a brawl, or a hornet attack. In addition, obviously, to another Sri Lanka batting collapse.

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