Sri Lanka batter Chamari Athapaththu has hogged the limelight in the early part of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 like no one had imagined.
A dazzling 178 not out against defending champion Australia has overshadowed several fine performances and the left-hander believes she showed glimpses of her two batting heroes – Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya, during the knock.
“I started like Sanga and ended like Sanath,” a beaming Athapaththu said of her 143-ball knock in which she hit 22 fours and six sixes to help set a challenging 258-run target for Australia.
Athapaththu has been around for long and even considered as Sri Lanka’s batting mainstay by many, but to see her come out with such gusto against the world’s top side was a big surprise.
Hailing from Gokarella in central Sri Lanka, Athapaththu had to take over captaincy at the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2016 after Shashikala Siriwardene was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury. That was a learning curve for the former captain as she learned to cope with pressure.
The 27-year-old, who has scored 1906 runs in 61 ODIs and 1001 runs in 58 T20Is, is delighted with how things have panned out and elated at her latest effort.
“I am really happy with my performance. For the first 25-30 overs, I tried to go for singles and the odd boundary. After 35 overs, when the Power Play started, I tried to hit the ball over the ropes,” she said, giving credit to coaches Hemantha Devapriya and Jeevanta Kulatunga for her development as a batter.
Athapaththu made her international debut against India during the ICC World Twenty20 2009 in Taunton, not far from where she caught the attention of the entire cricketing world on Thursday with the second-highest score in all World Cup matches.
After top-scoring with 53 in her team’s tournament opener against New Zealand, Athapaththu produced the scintillating knock that will be remembered for long despite her team losing to Australia by eight wickets.
“I love coming back to England,” she said. “I love the conditions here and we have played a game here before so I knew what the conditions would be like.”
Her 178 not out will go alongside her centuries against Ireland and South Africa but Athapaththu rates the stunning knock in Bristol as her finest accomplishment to date.
“This is my best achievement. Australia has experienced bowlers like Ellyse Perry and Megan Schutt, who also play in leagues and county matches. I trusted myself and played to my potential.”
Athapaththu was encouraged by her father and inspired by cricketing icons Jayasuriya and Sangakkara, who was quick to laud her on twitter after the Bristol knock.
Athapaththu though has dedicated her latest knock to her cricket-crazy father, who passed 10 years ago with a cardiac arrest when she was only 17.
“He is the hero in my life. He helped me a lot in my career. He loved cricket. He always pushed me to go and play, supported me in all aspects.
“I liked cricket, but was very lazy. He pushed me to pursue a career in the game.”
Her mother, who retired as a nurse following her father’s death, encouraged the batter to continue playing despite the bereavement. Just two years on, Athapaththu would make her international debut.
Athapaththu, who likes to travel and mountaineering in her spare time, started slowly in Bristol, ticking things along before exploding in the final 15 overs.
Already a big name in her home town, Athapaththu wants to help women’s cricket grow in Sri Lanka.
“A lot of girls are now playing cricket in my town, a few youngsters have come to the national level. We need more girls to play to help improve our cricket. In the next year we will see two or three players come through to play in the national team.”