His 4-58 is the best figure by a chinaman on Test debut.
Ask Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh this question and you might get a sheepish smile and a shrug in reply. And if you probe further and ask him about the fourth delivery of the 46th over that befuddled him and knocked back his off stump, he might even turn a shade deeper than a beetroot.
It takes something special to trick a set batsman—Marsh was batting on 31 off 62 balls—and 25-year-old Paththamperuma Arachchige Don Lakshan Rangika Sandakan had that special one up his sleeve. The ball, delivered deceptively with much-practised flight, landed in line with off-stump, with Marsh ready with a straight bat to drop the ball dead at his feet. And then the ball turned, ever so slightly, away from his bat, disturbing the timber on its way. Sandakan had his first Test wicket—day 2 of the first match between Sri Lanka and Australia.
The wiry left-arm wrist spinner with a mop of unruly hair, took three more as the Lankans, who were dismissed for a paltry 117 in their first innings, restricted the Aussies to 203. His 4-58 is the best figure by a chinaman on Test debut. The old warhorse, Rangana Herath, was the other wrecker-in-chief, taking 4-49, and ending the day on a promising note for the Lankans.
That Sandakan made an impressive debut would not surprise anybody who has followed his rise in the bowling ranks over the last three years. He has been the highest wicket-taker in two first-class seasons of the past three. He made a forgetful debut for Saracens Sports Club in 2012, giving away 77 runs in 26 overs and taking only a single wicket.
He soon moved to Colombo Cricket Club and the rub of the green started going his way. He ended the 2013-14 season as the highest wicket-taker, with 54 wickets. He was selected to the national team in 2014 but failed to make it to the playing eleven.
Sandakan followed it up with 45 wickets in the next season, and again topped the list in 2015-16. He was drafted into the senior side in the Test series against the Aussies, thanks to an impressive performance against Derbyshire—5/40—as part of the A team on England tour.
Sri Lanka has always had a rich legacy in the spin department (read mystery bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and the 'outsider', Lasith Malinga), and Sandakan, with his ability to spin the ball both ways and the deceptive googly, seems to be on the right path. He admits that he has only four variations. But on a turning pitch, and with greater control, right guidance and experience, four can be equal to forty. Don't believe me? Ask the coach of the Indian cricket team.