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Who is Bhanuka Rajapaksa?

Bhanuka Rajapaksa
by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Bhanuka Rajapaksa hit a sensational 48-ball 77 in just his second T20I against Pakistan, the No.1 ranked team in the format, to help Sri Lanka seal an unlikely series win in Lahore.

His online presence is mysterious. His Twitter handle – or at least the handle of a Bhanuka Rajapaksa tagged in a congratulatory tweet by Angelo Mathews – resembles an autogenerated password, and in any case, he has never tweeted, retweeted, or liked anything on the micro-blogging platform, and until his sparkling breakout knock, the most recent available picture of him batting in limited-overs kit was taken back in 2014, with current Leicestershire assistant coach Tom Smith the bowler. So what is Rajapaksa’s story?

Who is he?

A top-order batsman who is only weeks away from his 28th birthday, Rajapaska only made his T20I debut in the opening game of the series against Pakistan.

How’d he start?

Rajapaksa was prolific at the 2010 under-19 Cricket World Cup, ending the tournament as his team’s leading runscorer as they fell agonisingly short of a place in the final, losing to an Australia team captained by Mitchell Marsh by two wickets in the semi-final. Only three batsman scored more runs than his 253 in the tournament: Player of the Tournament Dominic Hendricks, Babar Azam and Kraigg Brathwaite.

Before the tournament, he also smashed 154* off 111 balls against an Australia under-19 attack featuring a young Adam Zampa. His performances at under-19 level won him a Sri Lanka A call up while he was still a teenager. A regular for the Sri Lanka A side over the years – he’s played 32 List A games for the second-string side – he found runs harder come by after his initial emergence on the scene back in 2010.

What happened next?

Despite his impressive start to his career, it took Rajapaksa until the 2016-17 season to finally average north of 40 in a season of List A cricket and the 2018-19 season to do so in first-class cricket. His T20 record has always been consistent without ever being spectacular.

During a particularly lean spell in his early twenties, Rajapaksa spent time playing Bangladeshi domestic cricket with mixed results. Over the past 18 months, Rajapaksa has enjoyed a career renaissance that has seen him notch consistently impressive scores across all three formats, with the highlight coming earlier this year when he hit 268 off just 173 balls in a first-class match in Sri Lanka – the innings contained a staggering 19 sixes. Only two batsman in the history of the game have hit more sixes in a first-class innings.

Challenges?

Although he starred in just his second international, he was only afforded an opportunity in the first team after 10 Sri Lanka players refused to tour Pakistan. Despite the impressive start to his international career, Rajapaksa will face a battle to maintain his place in the team when the regulars return.

Final Word

“Bhanuka Rajapaksa played a masterclass innings (his 77 against Pakistan). These youngsters should get a good chance after the series but there are senior players out as well. So it’s up to the selectors.” – Sri Lanka’s T20I captain for the Pakistan tour, Dasun Shanaka.

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