Marvellous Marvan

Marvan Atapattu... delivered at the crunch.-Pic. REUTERS

THIS man oozes class. Quality is never in short supply when Marvan Atapattu puts willow to the leather.

Timing the ball gracefully, finding the gaps, and progressing in a seemingly unhurried yet brisk manner, the `Marvellous Marvan' brings with him a lot of old fashioned elegance.

An opener who opens up a whole lot of possibilities with his correct and clean methods, blunting the attack with a broad blade, rotating the strike, seizing the initiative himself with silken smooth strokes.

His partner at the top of the order and captain, Sanath Jayasuriya is explosive, can alter the course of the game in a hurry, however, Atapattu's role in World Cup 2003 — he made 382 runs at 54.57 — was always going to be crucial, given his innings building skills.

Atapattu is a stayer, and if he could occupy the crease for a majority of the fifty overs, the chances were that the Lankans would be on the road to victory. It was Atapattu's sublime 129-ball 124 in that dramatic day/night clash against the Proteas at Kingsmead, that enabled Lanka to finish at a challenging 268. Runs that eventually combined with rain to deny South Africa a place in the Super Six. That was a duel, where one witnessed Atapattu's glorious back-foot drives off the pacemen in the arc between point and cover, punching holes in the field.

The point is when someone like Atapattu consolidates, partnerships are going to be built along the way, and it was his 152-run stand with Aravinda de Silva for the fourth wicket, that prevented the South African bowlers from making the inroads, even while piloting Sri Lanka to a combative score.

If that century ensured that the emerald islanders qualified for the Super Six, then it was another Atapattu hundred in a must-win situation for Sri Lanka that carried the side to the semifinal. Delivering at the crunch, he certainly did.

The Lankans travelled to East London, a side low on confidence, after drubbings at the hands of Australia and India in the Super Sixes, and Jayasuriya's men had to defeat Zimbabwe to stay in the competition. At stake was a last four slot, and the pressure on Sri Lanka was enormous. It was also an encounter where Atapattu's sharp cricketing brain and his ability to adapt shone through. The East London pitch was slow, stroke-making was hazardous, and reading the situation quickly, Atapattu, chose to grind it out, milking the bowling.

He batted through the fifty overs for his unbeaten 103 and Sri Lanka finished at a creditable 256 for five. The Lankan middle-order had been wobbly in the tournament and Atapattu held the innings together.

The fact that he uses his feet so well, and has supple and strong wrists enabled him to pick the ones and the twos against the slower bowlers, never really allowing the innings to get bogged down.

Under the circumstances, he was the key man when Sri Lanka pursued Australia's 212 at Port Elizabeth, and appeared in fine touch too. If he could survive the early phase, and then dig in deep, Lanka would be home.

Brett Lee had other ideas and a super quick delivery from him brooked no response from Atapattu. A special ball getting a special man out. Atapattu was among the winners in Southern Africa though. Class does tell... in the best of times, in the worst of times.

S. DINAKAR