From Piano Player To Stump Ravager – Matheesha Pathirana Is On Course To Become Bravo’s Successor At CSK


From the tune of the piano to the tune of stumps getting castled, Matheesha Pathirana‘s journey to the centre stage has been fascinating, and by the looks of it, this is only just the beginning, writes Naman Agarwal.

Every time MS Dhoni has been asked about his designated death bowler in IPL 2023, his answers have been accompanied by a slight smile, the kind a proud guardian has when they are speaking about their ward and are failing to hide their pride.

Over the course of just ten or so matches in his IPL career, Matheesha Pathirana has become a vital cog in Chennai’s bowling plans – both present and future. He has garnered public praise from his captain, a man who doesn’t like to go overboard with his expression of emotions. There are not many higher stamps of approval a cricketer can dream of getting.


Pathirana’s cricketing journey started at the school level in Sri Lanka. With his slingy, Lasith Malinga-like action, he was not hard to make out from the crowd. Unlike other kids who tried to blindly copy Malinga’s action, Pathirana had pace and accuracy, something that is hard to get with an action like this.

Naturally, he was fast-tracked into age-group cricket and featured in two Under-19 World Cups for Sri Lanka: in 2020 and 2022. However, he didn’t have a major impact, picking just seven wickets in six matches across the two editions. The only real highlight for him was a speed-gun glitch that showed him clocking a 175 kph delivery in a match against India.

In 2021, a video of Pathirana dismantling opposition batters in a school game in Sri Lanka did the rounds. That video reached MS Dhoni, and that is where Pathirana’s tryst with destiny started. Dhoni, clearly impressed with what he saw, tried to bring him into the CSK camp as a net bowler. He wasn’t given a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) by the Sri Lankan board initially but did eventually manage to end up in the CSK camp.

When Adam Milne was ruled out of IPL 2022 due to a hamstring injury, CSK replaced him with Pathirana. He wasn’t given a game straight away. It was only when all hopes of making the playoffs were over and CSK had to look forward to the next season, that they gave Pathirana a debut – against Gujarat Titans. He replaced Dwayne Bravo in the XI and took a wicket with his very first ball, of Shubman Gill. It was a poetic passing of the baton.

Bravo, CSK’s go-to death bowler and one of the all-time legends of T20 cricket, retired from the IPL after last season, and Pathirana has very ably taken over the mantle of death bowling from him for CSK. In IPL 2023, Pathirana has taken 12 wickets at the death at an economy rate of 8.33 at the time of writing.

His most memorable performances at the death this year have come against RCB and MI. Bangalore looked like they would pull off a heist at the Chinnaswamy, chasing 227 against CSK. They needed 35 off the last three overs with five wickets in hand. Pathirana bowled two of those, gave just 14 runs, and picked two wickets. Against Mumbai, he picked three wickets for seven runs off two overs at the death.

It is easy to dismiss a bowler with such an unusual action as someone who has made it so far only thanks to his natural gift. Pathirana, however, has shown that he is much more than that. In the last two years, he has shown massive improvement and a willingness to learn and evolve.

Speaking at the post-match presentation after the match against Mumbai Indians, MS Dhoni said: “he was slightly more lean, but he has added muscle, which means he has got pretty strong,” referring to Pathirana’s improving fitness. Eric Simmons, the former CSK bowling coach who is now with them as a consultant, spoke highly of Pathirana and his ability to remain calm under pressure in an interaction with the IPL before CSK’s match against Delhi Capitals.

“I think what has impressed me the most is his maturity and his calmness under pressure. To play under pressure and to be successful at this level, you have to want pressure. Otherwise, why are you doing it?” Simmons said.

Pathirana is barely 20 years old and has already become a reliable death bowler for one of the most successful T20 franchises in the world. He has a very unique asset that gives him a major advantage – his slingy action, can bowl deadly accurate yorkers at speeds touching 150 kph, and is growing in skills, temperament, and accuracy with every passing day. As a Bravo replacement in the CSK setup, Pathirana seems a perfect fit: if he keeps improving, he could even end up being an upgrade on him.

Pathirana’s family has a background in music, with his parents and siblings all involved in some way or the other. Pathirana himself plays the piano and has had formal education in music. Unfortunately for batters around the world though, he is well on his way to mastering another instrument – the white cricket ball – and will be playing the melody of the castling of stumps with it for the foreseeable future.

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