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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 December, 2003, 12:39 GMT
Samaraweera hits new heights
By Oliver Brett

Thilan Samaraweera
14 Tests
Three centuries, four fifties
Average: 67.16
Bowling: 11 wickets at 36.18

Thilan Samaraweera has had a curious Test career but now has every chance of developing into a fine middle-order batsman for Sri Lanka.

As an off-spinner, his orthodoxy means he has often been cannon-fodder for batsmen who regard Muttiah Muralitharan, quite rightly, as their principal threat.

A return of 11 wickets in 13 Tests is a patent sign that he would no longer have a future at this level if his batting had not surprised a few people.

In fact, so devastating is his form as a batsman that nobody else in the game can rival his current average of 67.16 - not Matthew Hayden, not Adam Gilchrist, nor even messrs Lara, Tendulkar and Dravid.

Nobody would seriously suggest the solidly-built 27-year-old from Colombo should be bracketed alongside those modern day stars, who have proven themselves in all conditions.

But surely the point has been reached where Sri Lanka's selectors regarded him as one of the first names on the team sheet.

He has the quality to be given a regular berth in the top five, and should only bowl when the team are desperate to take wickets.

And if Sri Lanka need to replace either Marvan Atapattu or Sanath Jaysuriya - the latter could conceivably retire in a year or so - he may even make a decent opener.

Samaraweera's statistics are certainly helped by five not outs. But scoring three centuries - all, incidentally, at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground - is no fluke.

He is a classy batsman and should be regarded as such - not as a utility all-rounder.

Thilan Samaraweera
Two-hats Trescothick dropped Samaraweera three times

Sri Lanka went into the first Test against England at Galle with a confusing trio of spinners-cum-batsmen.

Upul Chandana, Kumara Dharmasena and Samaraweera stocked up the late middle-order batting between six and eight.

The balance was wrong, because you do not need three spinners to supplement Murali, especially as Jayasuriya often bowls.

The selectors realised that and brought in an extra batsman, Tillakaratne Dilshan, for Kandy and Colombo.

They would confuse themselves far less, however, if they regarded Samaraweera exclusively as a batsman for a run of three or four Tests.

On his beloved SSC ground on Saturday, he accumulated slowly at first before hitting some blistering boundaries once he had secured his century.

And the cover-drives on the up off the seamers were executed with particular panache.

Just before his innings came to an end he played two shots that will live long in the memory of those who were at the ground.

James Kirtley, bowling to a 7-2 offside field was driven between the stumps and mid-on from a ball outside off stump for four.

Then Ashley Giles, bowling well wide of the leg-stump was lofted over mid-wicket for four more following some delightful footwork.

Samaraweera made his one-day international debut in 1998 but had to wait three further years to make his Test debut, whereupon he scored an unbeaten century at number eight.

He has not consistently been picked since then because the selectors have chose to look at his bowling rather than his batting.

Perhaps things will change now.

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