Teams have heroes, then they have unsung heroes who, for whatever reason, don't get the kudos their more celebrated teammates do.

A Ewen Chatfield to Richard Hadlee; a Conrad Smith to a Dan Carter if you will.

In Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka have a player who has been an outstanding contributor for his country for 16 years.

His achievements are substantial. And yet, in that time Sri Lanka also produced Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya among an array of top class batsmen.


Dilshan has at times seemed the sergeant to the other captains in the Sri Lankan teams.
That does him an injustice. In this ODI series, he misfired twice in Christchurch, getting nine and seven.

But at Saxton Oval yesterday, he was back in business, stroking 91 in 92 balls to carry Sri Lanka to the verge of what turned out to be a resounding eight-wicket win, and a way back into the series, which continues in Nelson tomorrow.

The son of a Muslim father and Buddhist mother, the 39-year-old's athleticism belies advancing years and his numbers are outstanding.

In 87 tests, he averaged 40.98 with 16 centuries; his 325 ODIs include 22 tons and 47 fifties, at an average of 39.57. In 66 T20s, he averages 28.9 with a strike rate of 121. In 2009, he scored 11 centuries in all forms.

Dilshan was the early practitioner of what is now known as the ramp shot, although in his version he tended to bow low in front of the ball and scoop it over his head.

His 500 runs at 62.5 were the most by a batsman in the 2011 World Cup.

Throw in his canny offspin and sharp fielding around point, and he remains a key figure for Sri Lanka. How much longer he can go on is another matter, but when Jayawardene and Sangakkara took their leave, after March's World Cup and in middle of last year respectively, Dilshan made it clear he was in no hurry to follow the great pair out the dressing room door.

On Thursday, Dilshan and young left-hander Danushka Gunathilake took New Zealand's bowling apart.

Gunathilake sped to 65 in 45 balls, clouting sixes and fours around Saxton Oval. Dilshan was more measured and if you wanted to place a wager on which one would see the job through, it would have been the player who has been there, done that so often.

On Wednesday, Dilshan was struck in the face by a ball in the practice nets. One teammate quipped that it might wake him up.

The answer came 24 hours later.

"Every time he gives me confidence when I bat with him, and when I'm practicing," an admiring Gunathilake said.

"He's talking to everyone. He said 'forget the other two matches, we'll start from here'. He gave us confidence."

His influence on Sri Lanka remains strong.