This is NOT a ‘best XI of all-time’ post:- I have only been around since the 1980s so that would require at least a small degree of research and effort, which regulars to this blog will know never happens. This is instead my XI of players who I simply like or liked. Some of them were good, some very good, but all had my own little reasons for making the XI, which I will attempt to explain.
So without further ado, and starting in batting order:
Whenever Sri Lanka’s Marvellous Marvan came out to bat, he was very much classed as the understudy to his more glamourous and dangerous opening partner Sanath Jayasuriya. As the unloved Hannibal Smith to Jayasuriya’s B. A. Baracus, Atapattu could be overshadowed at times as he scored significantly slower and with less flamboyance than his opening partner. Whilst Jayasuriya could easily blitz his way to 50 in as many balls, there was often a forlorn, ignored figure at the non-striker’s end whose 10 from 60 balls was setting the platform for a lengthy vigil at the crease. Indeed, although just one run separates the pair’s fairly modest Test averages (39 and 40, in Jayasuriya’s favour), it is Jayasuriya who has ‘starred’ in Bollywood and again Jayasuriya who has embarked on a post-cricket political career.
Other than his calmness at the crease, his calmness at the non-strikers end, his calmness as a captain and his calmness off the field, what I liked about Atapattu was his “conversion rate”. Sure this is bit of a made-up stat, but it is always a useful one to bash Shane Watson with (19 fifties, just two hundreds Watto!?!). Anyway, of Atapattu’s 156 innings he passed 50 thirty-three times, and on nearly half (16) of these occasions he reached his ton. Furthermore, of these sixteen centuries he went on to make a double hundred six times – a feat only bettered by three men: The Don, Wally Hammond and Brian Charles Lara. He might well have been a notoriously slow starter, but if Atapattu got out of double figures then he could really anchor down and it could be a long day in the field.
The most memorable innings’ of any of these players that stick in my mind will naturally tend to come against England. In Atapattu’s case it is not actually the imperious, unbroken 201 run masterclass in Galle in 2001 that I can recall, but the 185 he amassed the next year in Sri Lanka’s finest display at Lords since their debut at HQ. This innings was quicker than his usual fayre, an array of high-elbowed drives through cover off either foot and neat, elegant flicks through mid-wicket. It practically signalled the end of Andrew Caddick’s England career, and had Murali been available on Days 3 and 4 would almost certainly have been the platform for Sri Lanka’s first (and only) victory at Lords.
It would be remiss not to mention a strange incident involving a large wad of cash (1.1million rupees…or about 10p) being found in Atapattu’s hotel room safe in 2003 during England’s tour of Sri Lanka. Particularly in today’s climate where I automatically DETEST any player caught up in this sort of scandal, it is something worth noting. The ICC’s match-fixing investigation did subsequently clear Atapattu of ‘any’ wrongdoing but there is still no clear explanation of how or why the cash ended up in his room, other than perhaps an attempt to blacken Atapattu’s name.
Speaking of Atapattu’s name: it is magnificent. Four of the finer syllables in cricket. Even his first name, Marvan, reminds me of Disney-fied Martians. I think the alliterated ‘a’s certainly make me like him more. Mar-Van At-A-Pat-Tu. It rolls off the tongue as easily as he rolls into my favourite XI.