A 'normal Dickwella' aims to make full use of Asia Cup opportunity

Niroshan Dickwella leaps to play one Associated Press

Niroshan Dickwella would have considered himself rather unlucky to miss out after Sri Lanka's Asia Cup squad was announced last week, but poor returns in the domestic T20 tournament last month had somewhat overshadowed an impressive showing at home against South Africa.

In that series, Dickwella was among Sri Lanka's top three performers with the bat, scoring 158 runs at an average of 31.60 - behind only Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera. With Sri Lanka struggling to find consistent openers over recent years, Dickwella's omission raised more than a few eyebrows.

The man himself though was not surprised following a domestic outing that saw him score just 24 runs in four innings.

"I have changed my technique and game plan, it has worked in ODIs and Tests, but I think I'm struggling a little bit in T20s," Dickwella told ESPNcricinfo. "One of the reasons [for failing in the T20 tournament] is that maybe I was trying to score too quickly. I know I have to plan my game better. I hadn't played T20s for a while and I was desperate to score some runs."

However, a finger-injury sustained by Dinesh Chandimal in that same tournament has now handed the 25-year-old a lifeline, with him being drafted in as Chandimal's replacement for the Asia Cup.

For Dickwella, it's an opportunity he knows he's good enough to take, even though he acknowledges that at times he can be guilty of throwing away his wicket.

"I normally get out in silly ways, everyone talks about that. But when I score runs in a similar way, they appreciate it. But I think now I have to calm myself down a bit, and put my head down and bat. Then only I can improve my game and score big runs."

Indeed, an ODI career that touts 1232 runs at an average of 32.42 with six fifties and two hundreds in 39 innings screams unfulfilled potential - and that potential is considerable when you look at Dickwella's international career thus far.

Having made his international debut in 2014, it wouldn't be until late 2016 - when he was included as part of an inexperienced touring party to Zimbabwe - that he would make his mark on the national side; 179 runs at 44.75 in five ODIs in Zimbabwe, followed by 197 at 39.40 in five losing ODIs in South Africa.

He added to this in the T20I leg, scoring 133 runs in three games at 44.33 and with a strike rate of 156.47, as Sri Lanka secured their first series win in South Africa.

"I have been successful in T20s. In South Africa, I was Man-of-the-Series, and Man-of-the-Match in the final game," Dickwella said. However, the highest score of 68 - his only half-century in the format - Dickwella's average stands at 20.75 after 13 T20Is.

But while he was suffering in the shortest format, in 50-over cricket he was thriving. A further 121 runs at 40.33 in the 2017 Champions Trophy in England, and 266 runs against Zimbabwe at home at 53.20 - including a career-high of 116 - saw Dickwella end as Sri Lanka's second-highest run-getter in ODIs for the year 2017, behind Upul Tharanga.

This was despite ending the year in a miserable run of form where, following an assured 74-ball 64 against India at home in August 2017, he scored just 243 runs in his next 15 ODIs - a run that would eventually saw him being dropped for the Nidahas Trophy.

Fortunately, for Dickwella, this austere spell coincided with the hiring of head coach Chandika Hathurusingha and batting coach Thilan Samaraweera.

"Both of them [Hathurusingha and Samaraweera] are always talking to me how I can improve my game in different formats," he said. "Now it's good in ODIs and Tests, but I need to have a good game plan and be mentally strong in T20s."

Following constant in-depth conversations with the pair, a rejuvenated Dickwella emerged to star against South Africa. Conversations, he revealed, which helped identify the necessary technical alterations that would see him return to his best.

"My front leg was going across, and I have made that adjustment. I made some small changes in terms of my upper body positioning while in my stance, and it's helping me a lot now. I'm also playing with a split grip now - [earlier] I used to play with a split group but it got changed over time.

"It's important to speak to the coaches and get back to being normal Dickwella."

Indeed in Tests and ODIs Sri Lanka have begun to reap the benefits of "normal Dickwella". They'll be hoping he turns up in the shortest format as well and sooner rather than later.