Tillakaratne Dilshan laughs when he explains what the young players he coaches most want to be taught.
“When I am training all the kids, they want to learn how to play the ‘Dilscoop’,” says the former Sri Lankan captain, who now lives in Beaconsfield in Melbourne’s outer southeastern suburbs.
Most presumed Dilshan’s famed ‘Dilscoop’ had been retired when he called time on a 17-year international career following a 2016 limited-overs series against Australia.
But having politely declined offers to play for local clubs that had gotten wind a man with 39 international centuries to his name had moved to town along with his wife Manjula Thilini and their four children, Dilshan finally relented when Premier club Casey South-Melbourne came knocking a few weeks ago.
Two weeks ago, the 44-year-old signed a contract on Monday, picked up a bat for the first time in nearly year at training on Thursday, then promptly cracked a 42-ball 53 after also opening the bowling with his off-breaks in an eight-wicket win over a Dandenong side featuring his former Sri Lanka teammate, Suraj Randiv.
“He definitely hit them out of the screws pretty quickly,” Casey skipper Michael Wallace tells cricket.com.au. “He came out (of his net at training) and said he was a bit rusty – maybe a couple of balls didn’t come out of the middle – but he looked a class above, he really did.
“That’s a good sign for us if his first hit for us when he’s ‘rusty’ is 50 off 40.”
By Wallace’s reckoning, it only took three overs for Dilshan to bring out the trademark shot that caused the geometry of cricket grounds to be reevaluated.
“You could see him just manipulating the field and going, ‘If I play this shot, they’ll have to put someone there’,” says Wallace. “And then he’d just hit it to another spot.”
More importantly, for Wallace and Dilshan alike, is the latter’s insistence on passing on some of the wisdom he has acquired from a remarkable international cricketing journey.
So often overshadowed by the legendary duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, Dilshan piled on more than 17,000 international runs and finished as one of only two Sri Lankans (Jayawardena is the other) to make tons in all three formats.
“In Sri Lanka we produced a lot of the world’s best spinners and I trained with them and learnt to (play) against them on turning wickets,” says Dilshan, who could not stop Casey losing to Melbourne University in their second game of the new year.
“I can definitely share this experience with up-and-coming Victorian youngsters.”
Wallace says Dilshan, who reckons he is now “about 70-75 per cent” of the cricketer he was when he finished with Sri Lanka, has already passed on invaluable guidance to both batters and bowlers at Casey.
Not that his advice is for their ears only.
Dilshan may not have been the first to employ the scoop but he is considered the first to have enjoyed sustained success with it after initially wowing audiences with the daring ploy at the 2009 World T20 in England.
The inventive stroke, as its main pioneer notes, is now commonplace among the best short-form batters.
“When I played Dilscoop in 2009, bowlers found it very difficult to set up the field,” says Dilshan, with a (justified) hint of pride. “Now everyone is playing it.”
But Dilshan insists few have stuck true to his original method.
The beauty in how he plays it is the way his front foot moves to the ball as if he is about to play a cover drive, except, with flair and courage that remains just as breathtaking today as it was a decade ago, at the last minute he collapses his back leg, ducks his head and shovels the ball over his head.
The one he played off a 144kph Mitchell Starc delivery at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium in 2013 – the Dilscoop that remains most vivid in many Australian fans’ memories – is a perfect example.
He also says that approach provides more flexibility. If the ball is pitched short, he can, from that same position, play the ‘paddle’ which goes squarer, in the direction of fine-leg.
“Some players are only (giving themselves) one option,” Dilshan continues.
“I would have two options – if the ball is full, I have the paddle and if it’s a little bit shorter I am playing the Dilscoop. I always have two options.
“If you move your full body, you (are going) before the bowler bowls. Some batsmen are going too far to off stump and bowlers can see and can bowl wider or more to the leg side.
“I would only use one (step) and can set up my base so that I have both options.”
Dilshan maintains Starc is the fastest bowler against whom he has played the shot, so there is some irony in that he has moved to Australia for a slower-paced life.
He flirted with a career in politics back in Sri Lanka but is now more invested in his children as he assists them in adjusting to life in a new country.
Dilshan is particularly bullish about the cricketing prospects of his eldest daughter, 13-year-old Limansa, a leg-spinner who bowls right-handed and bats left-handed and who has already played for Officer Cricket Club’s Under-18s.
“I really like the system here and the freedom,” he says. “In Asia, when you walk outside everyone is a fan and is following us. It’s not easy.
“But here you have a much more free life, especially my kids. All the facilities we are using here is very good, especially the schools.”
His easy adjustment to life Down Under begs the question; how would Dilshan feel about Limansa (or one of his other children) one day playing for Australia?
“That is a hard question,” he says with a laugh. “The thing is I can’t force anything. Whatever the kids like, I have to do. I have a lot of hopes.
“My daughter is playing in the U18s for a couple of games and she’s just 13. She’s really good. She grabs me and says, ‘Dad, let’s go to training’ and she works hard. She might be a good standard in a couple of years if she keeps improving.
“Here they are giving the freedom to the kids to grow up slowly.”