The Indian Premier League is crazy about West Indian cricketers, and why not? Caribbean island cricketers were the toast of the league. Whether it’s the brute force of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell, or the experienced cunning of Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo.
Most of the IPL’s all-time records are West Indians. Gayle hit 357 sixes in the IPL, the most by a player. His 175 is the highest individual score in the league. Russell’s blistering 179.32 strike rate is the best in the league. Bravo is the highest wicket taker of all time with 171 scalps. Narine played the most points, 1,285 of them, to be precise. Alzarri Joseph has only played three IPL matches so far but on his IPL debut against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2019 he tore up SRH’s batting order, picking up six wickets. His best, 6/12, also remains the best of IPL’s top bowling numbers. Rumor has it that Odean Smith could be the Windies’ next superstar player.
In stark contrast, a single cricketer from Emerald Island, Sri Lanka has topped the league quite consistently. He needs no introduction: Lasith Malinga, the one of crushing yorkers and slower deliveries, who bagged 170 wickets for the Mumbai Indians. He gifted Mumbai with their fourth IPL title with what turned out to be his last ball for Mumbai Indians and subsequently the Indian Premier League.
No other Sri Lankan has come as close to performing consistently in the IPL as Malinga. Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara have scored 1,802 and 1,687 IPL runs respectively and are 48th and 50th on the high score run list. Muttiah Muralitharan has picked up 63 wickets in the IPL and is 47th on the list of bowlers.
Since retiring from active cricket, the trio of Jayawardena, Sangakkara and Muralitharan have continued to be involved in coaching and mentoring IPL teams. This season, Malinga has joined his former Sri Lankan teammates after being appointed bowling coach for the Rajasthan Royals.
So what about the Sri Lankans on the pitch this season?
Amidst all the drama and frenzy of the first week of IPL 2022, Sri Lankans Wanindu Hasaranga Silva and Bhanuka Rajapaksa stood out with their performances.
Hasaranga, who plays for Royal Challenger Bangalore, struck his first ball of the season when he collected the wicket from Punjab Kings captain Mayank Agarwal. Hasaranga looked set for more wickets. But by the time he stepped forward to overthrow his fellow man, another Sri Lankan had taken control of the pursuit of PBKS. In the ninth inning of the PBKS innings, Rajapaksa crushed Hasaranga for a four and a six, rendering the bowler ineffective for the rest of the match. Rajapaksa then scored a 43 from 22 balls, hitting two fours and four sixes. His innings were vital as they set up the platform for the Kings, who chased a monstrous 206 with an over to spare. This evening belonged to the kings and to some extent to Rajapaksa.
But two matches and two days later at the same stadium, Hasaranga proved why RCB were determined to have him in their squad for this season and spent a whopping Rs. 10.75 crores to steer the player away from PBKS during the IPL mega auction 2022. Against Kolkata Knight Riders, the willy leggie threw a brilliant 4/20 spell and played a pivotal role in reducing the IPL double champions to just 128 in 18.5 overs. RCB won the match and Hasaranga walked away with the player of the match award.
Rajapaksa’s bidding story is not as exciting as Hasaranga’s. When the hard-hitting southpaw’s name appeared in the auction, neither team showed any interest in bringing the Lankan into their fold. As a result, PBKS bought Rajapaksa for a paltry sum of Rs. 50 lakh, the player’s base price. A week into the season, Rajapaksa already looks like one of the deals of the year. After his heroics against RCB, Rajapaksa hammered three sixes and three fours against KKR en route to a searing 31-9. Although PBKS lost to KKR, but Rajapaksa did enough to solidify his place in the playing XI.
So what do the numbers look like for Hasaranga and Rajapaksa?
Hasaranga is third on the list of best wickers of the season with 5 scalps. He has an average of 12.00 and played with an economy of 7.50. Meanwhile, Rajapaksa is fifth among the top five scorers of the season after amassing 74 points. But Rajapaksa has the best strike rate of 238.70 among the top five run-getters so far.
Hasaranga and Rajapaksa look like solid T20 players.
Last year, Hasaranga picked 36 international T20 wickets, the highest with South African left-arm spinner Tabriz Shamsi, the world’s number one ranked T20I bowler. With 16 scalps, Hasaranga had the most wickets in the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup. He even scored a hat-trick in the showpiece event! He is a solid hitter lower in the order. His three T20 fifties and an average of 17.70 bear witness to this.
Rajapaksa may not have numbers to show, but he brings leadership qualities to the table. In successive years i.e. 2020 and 2021, he guided Galle Gladiators to the Sri Lanka Premier League final. Rajapaksa could also be quite explosive with the bat. Espncricinfo says, “He compares his batting style to Adam Gilchrist” in his short five-line biography.
In Hasaranga and Rajapaksa, IPL could finally have unearthed two Sri Lankans capable of carrying the flag of their country at the top of the championship.
So it’s only poetic that in a week when Dwayne Bravo with 171 IPL wickets overtook Lasith Malinga to become the IPL’s all-time best wicket taker, these two island nation cricketers have lit up the league and promised the fans much more!