Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Thilakaratne Dilshan, The Modest Maestro

By PJ Lennon, Last Word on Cricket


What, you might ask, separates the also-rans from the great – or the modest from the arrogant? William Horman, who was a headmaster at Eton and Winchester in 1519 published the Vulgaria, from the Latin Vulgaris, the sense of “common things” and in this case “everyday sayings”, which was among other things, a guide as to ‘how younge men shoulde behove themselves’ .

The book is a collection of English sentences with their Latin translations, covering subjects relating to school, manners, upbringing, religion, natural history and among its many pages it offered these pearls of wisdom, “puer natus est melius quam indoctus: it is better a chylde unborne than untaught” and “mores facit hominem: manners maketh man”

These two sayings are as relevant today as they were in the 16th century and I think that they ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ and exhibit modesty and humility and are not characteristics, which exhibit weakness or self-doubt.


There are and have been several people, who in my opinion satisfy these criteria. Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali & Jesse Owens are 3 among others, who spring to mind.

A professional in any walk of life who can heap sincere praise on a peer is a special person indeed. Thilakaratne (or Tillerkeratne) Dilshan, whose Twitter© profile reads: Ex Sri Lankan cricketer, ‘Dilscoop’ Inventor & Proudly Sri Lankan, tweeted© to Brendon McCullum on his retirement: Congratulations Brendon McCullum on such an amazing career. We’ll miss an aggressive & fearless player!! #ThankYouBazz.


The Sri Lankan all-rounder Thilakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan was born on October 14th, 1976 in Kalutara, Western Province, Sri Lanka; 40 km south of the capital Colombo on the Lakshadweep Sea, or to give its ‘western’ name Laccadive Sea.

The Laccadive Sea is known for its constant temperature throughout the year; averaging 28° in summer and 25° in winter. It is known also for its pearl banks of Pinctada radiata and Pinctada fucata, or the Pearl Oyster as described in the book The Pearl Oyster by Paul Southgate and John Lucas.


Thilakaratne‘s birth name was Tuwan Mohammad Dilshan and his given religion at birth followed his father’s, Islam. His father is a Malay and his mother a Sinhalese, who make up the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, numbering about 16 million. Thilakaratne‘s mother is a Buddhist and he along with his brother, would in his later life convert to Buddhism.

Explaining the change of religion, Dilshan says; “although my father Tuwan Mohamed was Malay I didn’t know anything about Islam. I didn’t know how to speak or to pray from my small age. I used to go to the temple with my mother who was a Buddhist. I discussed with my parents why I am having a Malay name because in future I was going to follow Buddhism; that’s why I changed my name and took after my mother.

“I changed my name in 1998 to Tillerkeratne Mudiyanselage before going to England (courtesy of ESPN© with the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team. Because we stayed in my mother’s home town Kalutara we regularly visited the Kalutara Bodhiya. My father has also converted to Buddhism and he goes to the temple more regularly than us. He is the one who lights the oil lamp in front of the Buddha statue at home.


Dilshan is a special cricketer and he sits at the top of the tree of All-Rounders alongside Sir Garfield Sobers, Jacques Kallis, Sir Ian Botham, Graham Gooch and Imran Khan to name just a few. What sets Dilshan apart from his cohort of maestros is his genuine all-rounder ability, which includes, unusually, being an expert wicketkeeper.

There are plenty of wicketkeeper-batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara, Ab Devilliars, Adam Gilchrist and Alec Stewart are four that spring to mind but a man who is a superb bowler, fielder, wicket-keeper and batter – surely that is a rare skill?


Dilshan, who likes the nickname Mr Pallekele, began his education at school at the Jaffna Sinhala Madya Maha Vidyalaya until the outbreak of the Tamil National Alliance conflict in 1983. Sinhalanet reports that ‘…the offensive supposedly eroded [the] Sinhala identity in Jaffna from 1983… and …the Sinhala children and their teachers…have been compelled to do their studies in Anuradhapura and Kurunegala…’ during the forced annexation of the school by the Government forces. It was only in 2015 that the Government took the decision to release all buildings occupied by the Army in Jaffna back to the community.


He then attended Kalutara Vidyalaya, which as the website states; ‘Kalutara Vidyalaya was founded in 6th of January 1941 by Sir CyrilDe Zoysa. The college [was] born as the twin brother of Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya, the girl’s school. On 13th of January 1941, [the] College officially started with 11 teachers and 56 students. It is this year celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The website continues; ‘Today the college is [proud of its] achievements. It has produced many great citizens such as professors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, army officers, sportsmen, politicians and many more in other different fields. Kalutara Vidyalaya, Kalutara, the crowning glory of Sri Lankan Buddhist education in terms of both quality and quantity, is located in the heart of Kalutara, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It is the premier Buddhist College on the island and the college [now boasts] 3500 students and more than 120 teachers and is led by Mr. K. Rathnewera Parera.

He started his cricketing career at Kalutara Vidyalaya as a teenager, being coached by Ranjan Paranavitana, now a popular Premier Division coach and journalist in Sri Lanka,  alongside other boys, who would go on to be leaders in their field.


He is a private family man, who shuns the limelight and Nishad Pai Vaidya, Media and Communications Officer at Tamil Nadu Premier League, writes; ‘There is scarcely anything in the sport Thilakaratne Dilshan cannot do. He is one of the most exciting batsmen in the modern era. Given the ball he can churn out some overs with his off-spin. A livewire on the field and is the best point fielder for Sri Lanka — along with being a Test wicket-keeper’.

Dilshan‘s parents separated when he was 16 and Ranjan Paranavitana said that even though Dilshan carried a Muslim name, he and his brothers and sisters followed their mother’s religion from their childhood and once his parents separated he officially changed his religion and name.


He married Nilanka Vithanage and they have one boy Resadu Thilakaratne from that marriage. Cricket Country writes; ‘There are rumours that Dilshan‘s Sri Lankan test cricket colleague Upul Tharanga caused the rift between Dilshan and Vithanage and is the reason behind their divorce. Despite this, both Tharanga and Dilshan have shared many memorable opening stands in ODIs’ and they don’t openly display any animosity to each other.


Following his divorce, he married actress Manjula Thilini during the 2008 IPL series. They have two daughters and one son from this second marriage, Resandi Linama Thilakaratne and Lasadi Dihasansa Thilakaratne and a son Dihela Dinhath Thilakaratne.


His first recorded match was on the 6th December 1996, in the   Saravanamuttu Trophy at the Tyronne Fernando Stadium, Moratuwa in a match where Kalutara Town Club played Kurunegala Youth Cricket Club. Dilshan kept wicket and opened the batting in a match, which his team lost quite comprehensively, although he did put in a sterling performance in the second innings before being caught for 91 off a ball from a future Sri Lankan test bowler, Rangana Herath.


Speaking to The Nation, Dilshan says quite openly, which is indicative of his honest character, that he took a long time to establish himself into the test team as he felt he was batting too far down the order. He felt also that because of the presence of Sanath Jayasuriya who had as his opening partner Marvan Atapattu, a formidable opening pair. He eventually decided that he could serve his country better batting up the order rather than languishing in the middle order where his form and place were always in doubt.


More than in Test cricket it is in the one-day game that his transformation from a middle-order batter to that of an opener has had the greatest impact.

He continued; “I batted at number 6 or7 for eight years for my country and my batting average in one-dayers was less than 30. I thought I can do a better job as opener for my country. So I discussed with my family and Mahela Jayawardene who was captain at that time and I took the decision to open. That’s the best decision I have taken in my cricketing career”.

“I have scored more than 4000 runs as opener in all three formats and it has made a huge difference to my batting in the last three years. The decision I took I believe is the right one, otherwise I don’t think I would have come this far and been made captain of my country”‘


During the IPL he played the paddle sweep to great effect and he continues; “once I played a shot over my head which took the bowler and fielders by surprise. The crowd went wild and the fielders unsuccessfully questioned the legality of the shot, as did others with Kevin Pietersen and the switch shot.

However, he was determined to develop the shot and using a tennis ball, the Sri Lanka batting coach Chandika Hathurusingha helped him with the [development] of that shot.

“Then I started playing that shot in the World Twenty20 in England. It really helped because I scored a lot of runs with it and I ended up winning the Player of the Series award. It’s really good for the short format of the game. In the last few months I haven’t played the shot in fifty overs cricket. I have responsibilities as an opener to give the team good starts. But I will play it in the future,” he said.


However, the Dilscoop is a “very dangerous” shot according to Zimbabwean Douglas Marillier, who is known for his Marillier shot which has been compared to the Dilscoop.

He continues; “regarding our shots, I think they essentially try to do the same thing – score runs in an area that is difficult to protect as a captain – or perhaps to change the field in a way that allows for other scoring opportunities to open up”.

“I think the way I played it – being slightly on the inside of the ball was probably less difficult than the way he played it, he was often on one knee and in many cases ended up hitting the ball directly over his own head so a fair amount more dangerous I would have thought – mine – well, being on the inside of the ball meant that all I had to do was get some bat on the ball – and if I didn’t then I may have ended up being bowled or perhaps being hit one the pads, his shot – if he ever missed (which was not often) then he had a real threat of being hit in the body of head”.


“Obviously Dilshan‘s shot is something that cricket lovers will remember – but they must also recall his ability to play the more orthodox cricket shots and do well with these – so he did in essence have the full package as a batter – someone who both plays conventional cricket and scores freely, but also improvises in a way that few have been able to do”. He now has a fashion brand ‘Dil Scoop.


His test debut was against Zimbabwe on 18 November 1999 at Bulawayo. He scored 9 runs on debut but was out lbw to Henry Olonga.

He scored his maiden test century at the Harare Sports Club in the second test between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

He made 163 not out in the first innings and was awarded the player of the match award for his part in the Sri Lankan victory and he achieved his highest test score in England, where he scored 193 runs in the second test at the Lord’s cricket ground, against England.

His ODI debut also came Zimbabwe during Sri Lanka’s tour in 1999, where he scored 31 runs. His maiden ODI century came against the Netherlands on the 4th July 2006 where he smashed an unbeaten 117 and partnered Sanath Jayasuriya, who scored 157 to help Sri Lanka post the second highest ODI score of 443 runs.

Thilakaratne Dilshan is the only player to score hundreds across all formats of the game while leading the side. He is also the only player to have amassed over 1000 runs after turning 35

  • 1119 runs in 2012,
  • 1160 in 2013 and
  • 1207 in 2015.

Another notable but forgettable fact is that he is only one of two players to score more than 150 runs –  twice –  in losing causes in ODI; the other being the great Indian Sourav Ganguly.

Co-incidentally, both knocks came against India –

  • 160 in Rajkot in 2009 and
  • 160 not out in Hobart in 2012.


He announced his retirement from Test cricket on the 9th October 2013 with his last match being played against Bangladesh at the R. Premadasa Stadium. He played 87 test matches amassing 5,492 runs, with 16 centuries and 39 wickets at an average of 40.98.


He played his last ODI at Rangiri Dambulla Stadium on 28th August 2016 and he scored 42 runs in his last ODI innings. Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain announced that the match was dedicated to Dilshan and “…a win could give him a good farewell”. The ground was covered by many tributes to Dilshan highlighting that “A member of 10,000 run club, a legacy of the Dilscoop”, “What a RUN”, “Dilshan You Have Made Us Proud”, and “Thank You Dilshan”.

However, Sri Lanka lost the match by 2 wickets. Until his retirement from ODIs, Dilshan was the 11th highest ODI scorer of all time and 7th highest century maker of all time.

He played his last Twenty20 International at R Premadasa Stadium on 9 September 2016. He was out for just single run in the match but his fielding and bowling was superlative, taking 2 Australian wickets and ending a cricketing career of 17 years. At the time of his retirement, Dilshan was the second highest T20 International run scorer of all time as well.

In 2011, he achieved the treble of centuries, having scored centuries in all the three formats of the game. He is only the 5th batter to achieve the record.


In 2015, The Independent reported the headline; ‘Sri Lanka ravaged by mystery kidney disease that has killed 20,000 people in 20 years.

The President’s Media Division website reported; ‘Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena launched the official website of the Presidential Task Force ….to save people from the kidney diseases which has assumed the magnitude of a national catastrophe. President Sirisena also presented letters contained the responsibilities and objectives of Brand Ambassadors to Mr. Muttiah Muralithran and Mr. Thilakaratne Dilshan who have been appointed as Brand Ambassadors of the Presidential Task Force on Kidney Disease Prevention.

Dilshan remains one of the fittest players around the circuit despite being on the wrong side of 35 and Douglas Marillier made this short tribute; “With regards to Dilshan‘s retirement from the game, he has been a wonderful cricketer to watch and obviously has stood the test of time in terms of his career – I remember he was playing way back when I was playing so he really has been an asset to not only Sri Lanka but the game of Cricket as a whole – I wish him well in whatever he elects to do next”.

That is a sentiment, with which many lovers of the wonderful game will concur.

Thilakaratne Dilshan, a modest, mighty and memorable maestro of the glorious game. Enjoy your retirement.

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