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Dilshan: The everyday cricketer who copied, then patented the scoop

Wisden India logo Wisden India 13-09-2016
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With Tillakaratne Dilshan’s Sri Lanka career coming to an end, an era has ended – and I don’t use the word ‘era’ lightly here. Dilshan was the sole representative of, possibly, the largest cricket cult in the world — that of Indian gully cricketers — and his signoff signals an end to it.

There have been all sorts in this funny old game of ours. A gentleman ended his career with a Test average of 99.94. Another scored a hundred international hundreds. Yet another pulled off 400 not out in a Test innings. Those are the men you generally put in that big bag labelled ‘greats’. Or ‘legends’. Or whatever your adjective of choice is.

There have been all sorts in this funny old game of ours. A gentleman ended his career with a Test average of 99.94. Another scored a hundred international hundreds. Yet another pulled off 400 not out in a Test innings. Those are the men you generally put in that big bag labelled ‘greats’. Or ‘legends’. Or whatever your adjective of choice is.

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Then there are others, not necessarily among the greats (though the two things are not mutually exclusive), but important in other ways: They are the inventors. They use their bats like demented painters, mixing the colours up, refusing to let the canvas dry. When he is done, who knows, you might end up with either a Nataraja or a flamingo – but you’re assured that it won’t be very, erm, normal.

There was the copy-book batting of old and, more recently, 360-degree batting, with Virender Sehwag somewhere in between. And then there is – was – Dilshan. Tall, and firm and strong, the working-class hero. He perfected and popularised the one stroke street cricketers around the world can stake claim to having created – the scoop. That, and the lofted straight drive, are the two most profitable strokes in gully cricket, often played on road intersections (in Kolkata, we call them four-point crossings) but more commonly on straight streets, with houses – which have glass windows – on either side, cars owned by cranky uncles parked all around. A perfect cover-drive will upset the chatwalla’s wares and, if it doesn’t, ricochet off the wall to the bowler, so no run. At best, if the ball does hit the chatwalla and he refuses to throw it back, you can steal a single. And boundaries are to be scored only straight down the road and in the back.

Now, much like the drive – straight, cover, square, off, on, lofted, and so on – many were the kinds of scoops. Okay, not too many, but certainly three that I can think of straightaway.

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The first and most common was the one Dilshan copied from us, where you put your front foot out, got down on the back knee, closed your eyes and looked down, and scooped the ball over the keeper’s head. Six. Or at least four. A bad connection would give you one or two. Nothing lasts forever, so this one stopped being worth it once everyone figured out the formula, the keeper started going back, and at least two fielders started standing in the path of the ball.

The second then came into use, the one where the batsman walked across the stumps, exposing the wickets altogether, and then half-scooped and half-swung the ball slightly legside-ish over the thugs skulking behind the wicketkeeper. There was a variation to this too, one that worked only if the bowler wasn’t too fast. This was the third one. In it, you did exactly the same as the last exhibit, but went after the ball sooner, and scoop-swung it across the face of the keeper, more offside-ish. Like a cross-batted hoick over midwicket with your back to the bowler. Double bluff. Immense bat-speed, great hand-eye coordination; these shots needed them all.

Ah, the marvels of the tennis ball – it’s unlikely any of us Dons of Gully Cricket would have actually tried any of this with a leather ball. We didn’t. We certainly wouldn’t have risked the first one, the one Dilshan made his own, if an SG Seamer was hurled our way at 120kph, forget 140kph. And that’s why – really, that’s the main reason why – Dilshan shall forever be a Pied Piper figure for all cricket tragics of the gully kind, the sort who once had the eye of the prettiest girl in the street for winning tennis-ball matches against the terrible boys from the next lane.

Naturally, Dilshan has been much, much more than just the Dilscoop. I, being three months and one day older than the upstart from Kalutara, can claim to have played that scoop before Dilshan, but who is to vet that? There’s no Shamscoop in the cricket dictionary. Not a many-rupee cheque from Basnahira South coming my way either. Dilshan’s the one with all of those. And more. A total of 5492 Test runs, for example. And 10,290 in One-Day Internationals. And, bar Rangana Herath, our last link to the good old days of Sri Lankan cricket, which has made way for these not-so-good days, give or take the occasional whitewash.

Dilshan’s signoff won’t have quite the same resonance as the other recent ones, those of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. He had 2009, of course, and much more. Abundant natural talent that didn’t always result in great things, but often did. Still, he was not Sanga, nor Mahela. No.

© AFP Photo

As he bows out, though, I can’t help thinking back to my halcyon days as a gully cricketer. Sigh once, swing the right hand up over the left shoulder, smile at the memory. Yes. Dilshan. The everyday cricketer. I can only hope everyone who has ever played one of those three scoops remembers the man who made all of us famous – by association, many, many times removed. We created it. He characterised it. For that, we should doff that proverbial hat, for a fleeting second at least. And wish the good man well as he walks into the sunset.

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