Placed sixth in Wisden’s Test innings of the year list – part of the 2021 in Review series – is Dhananjaya de Silva’s 155* in Galle.

Dhananjaya de Silva 155* (262)

Sri Lanka v West Indies
Galle International Stadium, Galle
November 29-December 3, 2021

In May 2018, Dhananjaya de Silva, still finding his feet in Test cricket, was due to depart for a tour of the Caribbean when a personal tragedy struck. The sudden death of his father led to him painfully announcing his withdrawal from the tour. Hours after the loss, a statement from him read: “Boys, even though I may not be around to battle the Windies while you do so my heart will always be with Team Sri Lanka.”

Two weeks later though, he joined the squad, spending 30 hours in transit to be able to make it for the second Test. It doesn’t matter how many runs he scored on that trip. He’d already won hearts.

Before that series, his average stood at 46.34 from 13 Tests, having become the joint-fastest to 1,000 Test runs for Sri Lanka. By the end of 2020, the average had moved towards the mid-thirties, but de Silva never stopped being the team’s middle-order saviour, often rescuing them from dodgy positions from his spot at No.5 or 6. Late last year, he came face-to-face with the West Indies again, his team gasping to keep the series lead. And this time, he battled them with conviction, winning hearts once again.

When de Silva walked out to bat in the third innings, Sri Lanka, forced to play an injured Angelo Mathews down the order, had lost their top three batters at the score of 79. Leading only by 24 at that time, they required a substantial effort from the middle order to put up a decent target in a bid to keep the series with them.

In the company of a set Pathum Nissanka, de Silva began steadily, first negotiating the spinners on a dusty track. Slowly yet crucially, their fifty partnership brought back some momentum, but on a crumbling day four Galle strip, it didn’t take long for spinners to devour middle orders. The open challenge, though, was first thrown by Kemar Roach, who pinged in consecutive bouncers at de Silva’s head. The batter rocked back, pulling both of them on either side of the deep midwicket fielder. He was in no mood to back down.

As the partnership grew, the spinners lost their sting; de Silva had no issues stylishly swatting Roston Chase’s half-trackers away, both sides of the wicket. Nissanka’s departure, though, created an opening, and the other partners weren’t sticking around for long, but de Silva was in his own world, building on the lead with crucial runs. As he passed fifty, he targeted the vacant midwicket region again, but this time to go down one knee and sweep Jomel Warrican’s full deliveries from outside off. Veerasammy Permaul tried the same channel, and suffered the same fate, with de Silva standing tall and belting him for a huge six. By then, Sri Lanka’s lead was closing in on 200.

Soon after tea, he crossed three digits, still looking as fresh as he had when he walked in, not a hint of nerves either side of the landmark. Sri Lanka were eight down, but had already reached a target that they could look to defend on the fifth day. He was their saviour again, just like he had been, time and again. It was the same gritty de Silva whose maiden Test ton against Australia in 2016 had helped Sri Lanka from 26-5 to 355.

With a helping hand from No.10 Lasith Embuldeniya, he continued to toy with the bowlers, clanking boundaries on either side of the strip, including the one that brought up his 150. The following day, Sri Lanka completed a resounding 2-0 series win, their first against the West Indies in the last three attempts. And this time, it was Dhanjaya at the centre of it, around to battle the Windies with all his heart.