Captaincy was thrust upon Dilshan after Kumar Sangakkara’s decision to quit following the 2011 World Cup. Dilshan had some of the toughest assignments as captain as Sri Lanka played England, Pakistan and South Africa away from home apart from hosting Australia.
Sri Lanka had just entered the post Muralithara era and Dilshan had very little bowling resources as Nuwan Kulasekara and Ajantha Mendis were injured. Injury also prevented Angelo Mathews from bowling as Dilshan was denied the luxury of an all-rounder.
His first assignment was Sri Lanka’s tour of England. When Chairman of Selectors Duleep Mendis ordered Lasith Malinga to return home early from IPL for a fitness camp, the premier fast bowler out of the blues announced his retirement from Test cricket. It looked an act of sabotage.
From the outset it was very clear that powerful player agent Charlie Austin wasn’t going to make life easy for Dilshan. The divisions within the team were visible when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene issued statements supporting Malinga’s retirement from Test cricket.
Dilshan told us the tough times as Sri Lanka captain. "There were days I couldn’t sleep. I tried to move forward, but simply couldn’t make any progress," Dilshand told The Island.
"There were lot of problems. I didn’t want this captaincy. I was asked to do this."
"The captaincy helped me to understand the true nature of some people. I learned a lot.," Dilshan said.
"One of the issues I had was there were objections for bringing in some young players. I didn’t give in and resisted those pressures. I see some of those guys who came through doing wonders at the moment. That’s my greatest satisfaction leading the country.
In Dilshan’s last tour as captain, the team actually fared better. He had become the first Sri Lankan captain to win a Test match in South Africa. At the conclusion of the tour, he had vowed to build up the team, but 24 hours later stepped down. "I think something was going on behind the scenes. Some people know what was going on. I am not petty minded to bother about these things. I was given a job and I tried to do it to the best of my ability."
"Let’s bury the past and support the team. I don’t want to make further divisions by talking about it. No need to wash dirty linen in public," Dilshan added.
Soon after Dilshan quit, Sri Lanka toured Australia and reached the finals of the tri-nation series against the hosts at the expense of India. Sri Lanka also pushed Australia to the third final before losing the final game narrowly. Many were singing hosannas of new captain Mahela Jayawardene for helping the team get back to winning ways, but few realized that a man called Tillekeratne Dilshan had accumulated over 500 runs in the series. He was named Player of the Series.
Dilshan will turn 40 this year. Despite age, he remains Sri Lanka’s best fielder competing with some of the players half his age. He was also prolific with the bat last year and was the third highest scorer in ODI cricket in the world. In 29 ODIs last year, Dilshan scored two centuries and six fifties and averaged over 50 with a strike rate of above 90.
"You see, there are lot of younger guys coming through. After this series, there’s a long break. If I leave now, it will help the selectors to groom another player and prepare him for the series in South Africa. That’s the way forward. Generally, you sense when the right time has come. It happened to me when I wanted to quit Test cricket too."
During his career that spanned for 17 years, Dilshan has established some memorable records. He owns the record for most runs in an innings by a Sri Lankan at Lord’s.
"Obviously, winning my Test cap was a huge moment. I also love my 193 at Lord’s. All cricketers want to make a hundred at Lord’s. For me to go onto make 193 was very special.
Does he regret not making the double century. "Yes, I felt gutted. But that’s how it happens in cricket. There are no fairytales. What happened was I had got hit on the hand by Steven Finn and there was a fracture. I took pain killers and batted through. By the evening I was starting to get the pain again. I was bowled off an inside edge."
Dilshan had a simple message for younger players. "Value the opportunity you get. Lot of people want to represent their country, but only few are chosen. We are lucky to be in that lost. You may have differences with people, but once you cross the boundary rope, you want your team to win."`