Shashikala Siriwardena: a comeback story for the ages | Daily News


 

Shashikala Siriwardena: a comeback story for the ages

Shashikala Siriwardena
Shashikala Siriwardena

Taking her tournament-best bowling figures to seal Sri Lanka’s first victory in almost 18 months - whoever writes Shashikala Siriwardena’s scripts got the finale spot on.

Match-winning figures of four for 16 in her final international appearance was the most fitting of farewells for Siriwardena, perhaps the most dedicated sportswoman Sri Lanka has known.

From captaining her country to leading the MRF Tyres T20I All-Rounder Rankings in 2014, Siriwardena has been there and done it all.

And while her four-wicket haul against Bangladesh helped Sri Lanka bow out of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 on a high, Siriwardena’s importance goes beyond winning matches for her country. Just ask Chamari Atapattu.

“She’s the big sister on my team. Actually, she’s a legend,” she said.

“She is the number one all-rounder in our team and in the world. She helped me, our youngsters and our seniors all a lot.

“We call her the legend and today she retired as a champion.”

When Siriwardena walked off the pitch for the last time after Monday’s victory in Melbourne, it was a sight for any sporting fan to behold.

There were hugs, applause and tears as Sri Lanka said goodbye to their former captain followed by Atapattu tearing up in the post-match press conference.

Delving back into Siriwardena’s career, it’s easy to realise why.

Saying goodbye after 17 years of international cricket was never going to be easy, but for Siriwardena, it was a relief to do it on her own terms.

She battled through injuries that nearly cost her career not just once, nor twice but three times.

First was the bone operation on her finger in 2015, before she injured her left hamstring and needed surgery for it to be reattached the following year.

And life didn’t stop testing her there, a few months later she had a bike accident and ruptured her ACL.

It became infected and Siriwardena was stuck in hospital for nearly two months, told time and time again that she needed to forget her cricket dreams.

And if it wasn’t for those around her, she would have followed the doctor’s advice.

“There were times I wanted to stop because these are all happening one after one. It wasn’t easy,” she added.

“But the team players, the officials, the coaches and captain, they’ve all kept supporting me.

“They often let me play without my being fully fit. They would make sure I was kept away from fielding at the hard positions.

“I felt they needed me even though I was injured and that motivated me to keep doing my rehab. In the recent years, I have done more rehab and gym work than batting and bowling. It has not been easy.”

That’s not the first time Siriwardena has considered giving up cricket for good, either.

Once again it wasn’t a decision based on her own talent, but one she thought she had to make as a newlywed.

In a country where it can be customary for women to put a hold on their career after marriage, Siriwardena was ready to accept her time in sport had come to an end.

But not if husband Namal Seneviratne, a cricketer himself, had anything to say about it.

“He said to me: ‘Every woman doesn’t get this chance to represent the country and do well at that; if you are performing well, just focus on your fitness and performance - it’s a big stage’,” she continued.

“I think every woman needs that kind of encouragement to be able to play cricket or any sport after marriage.

“There were a lot of helping hands along the way but it’s because of him I am here today, I dedicate my entire career to him”

One year later, Siriwardena defied the status quo and became the number one all-rounder in T20Is and fulfilled her dream of playing a match at Lord’s for the World XI — the first Sri Lankan ever selected.

It’s a comeback story for the ages. When she collected her Player of the Match award in Melbourne, Siriwardena couldn’t believe it was finally complete.

“I was kind of nervous, thoughts in my mind when I got up and thinking that I’m wearing national colours for the last time, representing my country. It was pretty emotional,” she added.

“So I left all the thoughts behind and just played that I’m not retiring. That’s what I was thinking that until this match ends. I’m not thinking about my retirement.

“It’s almost 17 years that I’ve been with them more than my family. It’s a fact that I have spent my life, 70 per cent, 75 per cent with these girls and the team. I will not get that time again.

“It’s a big highlight for me, finishing on a good note.

“I’m truly satisfied that I think that I did something for the country every time when the team needs me.” – ICC 


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