Wanindu Hasaranga has bowled himself into the reckoning as one of the hottest T20 properties in the circuit, and an IPL deal is all but guaranteed this year, writes Rohit Sankar.

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Package the entire Indian tour of Sri Lanka in 2021 into one montage and the one moment that is likely to open the compilation is the exchange between Rahul Chahar and Wanindu Hasaranga. A pumped Chahar giving an animated send-off to Hasaranga only to be met with a very Gandhi-like response from the Sri Lankan: an applause of the delivery, before trudging off.

“He [Hasaranga] doesn’t give a s***,” Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthur said earlier this year, while identifying Hasaranga as one of the future all-format mainstays in the national team. “He’s got that attitude. Any player who has that is gold. He wants to be making the decisive plays with bat, ball and hitting the stumps from cover point.”

That’s as near to the truth as can be. Seen as another mystery spinner emerging from the Island Nation, Hasaranga announced himself spectacularly on ODI debut in 2017, picking up a hat-trick against Zimbabwe, but it took two more years to make his T20I debut and become a consistent presence in the limited-overs side.

That decisive moment – the one that saw Hasaranga go from a fringe talent to a permanent member in the XI – came on the back of an important decision Hasaranga took in late 2019 to tour Pakistan.

16 Sri Lankan players toured Pakistan for three T20Is and as many ODIs, but the headline, like before any tour of Pakistan is these days, was on big players pulling out. According to Danushka Gunathilaka’s description on ESPNcricinfo of the process behind the scenes, a group of 25-30 players were assembled and asked for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Hasaranga must have given a yes, for he made it to the tour and played all three T20Is under Sri Lanka’s new leader, Dasun Shanaka. He dismissed Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed thrice – all clean bowled – and ended the series as the highest wicket-taker, with an asterisk likely marked against his googly, a weapon that Pakistan had no answers to.

He played a starring role in two of the three games, taking three wickets off four balls in the second T20I and then a 3-21 in the final game to seal a series whitewash for a second-string Sri Lankan side.

Hasaranga has since been a mainstay in the T20I setup. A 4-9 in the final game against India on Thursday helped Sri Lanka to their first-T20I series win since that whitewash against Pakistan two years back. In the meantime, Hasaranga has risen to No.2 in the ICC T20I rankings after the first T20I against India.

While there are five other wrist spinners in the top 10 of the bowling rankings, none of them bats like Hasaranga, who has two half-centuries and a strike rate of 133 in all T20 cricket. The all-rounder has already made a mark with his batting in international cricket. Aside from a fifty on debut under dire cricumstances in Test cricket in South Africa, Hasaranga has played quite a few handy knocks in ODIs and T20Is.

In 2020, he won Sri Lanka an ODI run chase against West Indies from No.8, smashing 42* from 39 balls, 28 of which came batting with the last three batsmen. In the first ODI against England last month, he strolled in at No.5 and hit a 65-ball 54. This after a 60-ball 89* and a 60-ball 74 earlier this year in ODIs against West Indies and Bangladesh. In the first of those, he took Sri Lanka from 151-6 to 274 in 50 overs with his 89* from No.8.

As the second half of IPL 2021 looms, Hasaranga is at the top of the queue as a replacement option with several boards expected to not send their players. Even as the likes of Adil Rashid and Tabraiz Shamsi, the No.1 ranked T20I spinner, struggle to get IPL deals, Hasaranga’s USP, a rare combination of mystery spin and late-order hitting, makes him an enticing package too good to be ignored.

The IPL is harsh on overseas spinners, particularly because of the sheer amount of slow bowling talent available in India. Franchises have increasingly started to look at overseas spots as ones reserved for hard hitting batsmen or outright quicks. This is evident from the kind of Sri Lankan players who have played in the IPL in recent years: aside from Lasith Malinga, Isuru Udana,who offered death bowling promise alongside big hitting skills, and Thisara Perera, who is pretty good for a T20 finisher, are the only others from Sri Lanka to be part of the league.

The mystery spinners have garnered less attention over the years with Ajantha Mendis and Akila Dananjaya being the only spinners with no batting ability to be picked from Sri Lanka after Muralitharan.

Hasaranga stands out from the rest because of his dual skills, and the latest showing against India will further push his case in the mega auction next year. It won’t be the first franchise league the Sri Lankan is part of. In 2020-21, Hasaranga was the leading wicket-taker in the inaugural Lanka Premier League season, snapping up 17 wickets at an average of 11.3 and an economy of 5.18. He nicely complemented that with a strike-rate of 160.75 with the bat for eventual champions, Jaffna Stallions.

Unlike other Sri Lankan mystery spinners from the past, the focus for Hasaranga hasn’t been to add more variations to his skill set. Instead, he has worked on his existing tools: he said during the LPL season that he worked on turning the ball more and being able to land the ball exactly where he wanted to while sharpening his googly in the time he was away from the national team.

That essentially separates him from the herd of mystery spinners, who came out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly because they couldn’t be consistent enough with the ball. Add in his batting skills and willingness to put himself in tough situations, and you have a clear match-winner that could spice up any IPL team. Surely, one of them will be smart enough to snap him up as a replacement pick this year and retain him ahead of the mega auctions when his value is likely to multiply manifold.