What could be the connection here? What could connect the teenager from the Western Province of Sri Lanka to a band that originated in London in the early 1960s?
From a wider perspective, both The Rolling Stones and Gunaratne have started their journey at a crossroads in their respective fields. The band got famous for breathing new life into the 60s rock music, while Gunaratne is trying to do the same for Sri Lankan batting.
For years, Sri Lanka’s batting line-up has been revolving around one big-hitter in Chamari Athapathuthu. The opposition teams would know that if they get Athapaththu out, the batting line-up would collapse like a house of cards. Athapathuthu’s individual brilliance, when available, kept Sri Lanka in the contest, but rarely took them over the line. Athapaththu is currently the only player to score centuries in both the white-ball formats against the dominant Australian side. But, on both of those occasions, none of the other Sri Lankan batters could cross 25 runs.
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After many heartbreaks and the retirement of the former captain, Shashikala Siriwardene, it looked like the search for Athapathuthu’s co-star is unending. But then Sri Lanka discovered Vishmi (her name means A gift from God). In her second outing for her country in January 2022, in the Commonwealth Games Qualifiers, Gunaratne stood by her captain’s side and piled on a record-breaking opening partnership against Kenya. Even when her captain was smashing the opposition’s bowling, Gunaratne held her own to score an unbeaten 26.
Sri Lanka remained unbeaten in the tournament to secure the spot at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Unlike that match against Kenya in January, the challenges were different against India in the second T20I at Dambulla. Gunaratne had to take the scoring responsibilities as her captain struggled to get going in the powerplay. After a testing opening over from Renuka Singh Thakur, Gunaratne stepped down the track to drive Deepti Sharma for a boundary. Next over, she sliced a short delivery from Thakur to hit another boundary. She welcomed Simran Dil Bahadur with another calculated hit that went past short fine leg.
Five overs into the batting innings, Athapaththu’s contribution to the total was just a run. The teenager, on the other hand, was cruising with 22 off 23 balls. Once Athapaththu freed her arms with a towering six down the ground, Sri Lanka had found the rhythm. By the time the captain got out, the pair had broken their own record of the highest opening partnership in T20Is for Sri Lanka.
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Gunaratne missed out on her maiden half-century by five runs, but she did everything in her capacity to take Sri Lanka in a strong position against formidable opposition. She impressed many with that outing, including India’s vice-captain, Smriti Mandhana. “It’s really good to see the teenagers coming and looking to dominate and scoring big runs.” India’s opening batter said.
“She (Gunaratne) didn’t get any runs initially for the first few balls, but she stuck in. And that’s the really tough part to do in the T20 Format. Even if you don’t get runs in the powerplay, you have to stick around and then go for big runs. I think that’s one thing she really did well today.” Mandhana added in praise.
With patient but effective performances in her short career, Gunaratne has got the stones rolling in a new direction for Sri Lanka. She is not the only one to contribute to the team’s cause. The 23-year-old Harshitha Madavi took responsibility in the recent series against Pakistan and she has been named as Sri Lanka’s vice-captain for the series against India.
A teenager with The Rolling Stone sticker on her bat, born just days before the band released their first album of this century, can do what they did for the music world. Become a bridge between the ‘doom and gloom’ of the past and the brightness of the future.