Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Dilhara Fernando is born - the Sri Lankan who oscillated between brilliant and ordinary
July 19, 1979 - The manner in which Dilhara Fernando drifted to cricket was unique. Due to his tall and buff frame, Fernando was interested in basketball and used to play the sport at school.
One fine day in 1995, his school team had one player short and Fernando agreed to fill in. When the game began, all the bowlers were taken for plenty and the school captain was left scratching his head. As the last throw of the dice, he threw the ball to Fernando.
To the surprise of everybody, including the bowler himself, Fernando ended up taking a 5-wicket haul. The performance made him a regular feature of his school team.
As luck would have it, Arjuna Ranatunga was once invited as the chief guest for one of the school games. Ranatunga had a keen eye for talent and was quick to spot the skill of the pacer. He helped Fernando, who had only tried his hands at beach cricket before enrolling for the school team, play for the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC).
This brought Fernando into the system and he kept climbing the rungs of the ladder, one after another to finally make his international debut in a Test against Pakistan at Colombo in 2000. He finished with just 2 wickets in the game but in his next match against South Africa in Durban, Fernando made a name for himself by finishing with figures of 6/146.
After going wicketless in his first two ODIs, Fernando failed to make an impact in ODI cricket during the initial period of his career. Although he was rapid, he could be really wayward and go for a lot of runs.
His first white-ball 5-wicket haul came in the five-match ODI series on England's tour of Sri Lanka in 2007. The home team had won the first match but went on to lose the following three to trail by 1-3 going into the last match.
With the hosts having already lost the chance of winning the series, Fernando salvaged their pride. Chasing 212, England were bowled out for just 104 courtesy of Fernando's figures of 8-0-27-6 as Sri Lanka won by 107 runs. This also remains Fernando's best ODI figures.
His best performance in Test cricket came in the form of 5/42 at Galle against India. His fifer helped reduce India from 124/3 to 187/9 with Fernando claiming five of the six wickets to fall. Sri Lanka won the game comprehensively by 10 wickets.
Another memorable performance of his came against England in a 2007 World Cup match. With 12 required off the last over, Fernando bowled Bopara on the last ball as Sri Lanka won by 2 wickets.
The problem with Fernando was that he could be very good on his day but equally ordinary on an off-day. He had the potential to win his team a game with a fiery spell of pace bowling but could go so wayward that he could lose his team a match in one spell as well. Frequent injuries did not help either.
With the emergence of Nuwan Kulasekara and all-rounders Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews who could chip in with a few overs, Fernando found himself slipping in the pecking order.
He had played his best cricket by 2012 and did not play any Tests or ODIs after that. He was recalled for a T20I series against India in 2016 and played the last match. Unfortunately for him, Sri Lanka were bowled out for just 82 and their bowlers did not have much to defend.
Still, Fernando bowled to the best of his ability, giving away just seven runs from his two overs. Despite impressing in the short spell, it turned out to be Fernando's last international appearance.
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