Amidst a 10-man Sri Lanka’s misery of chasing a mammoth target of 550 runs in the opening Test against India at the Galle, Sri Lanka found a warrior in their opener Dimuth Karunaratne. Into the third day when Lanka’s chase had begun, it was known that their stand-in skipper Rangana Herath wouldn’t bat, so technically India’s task was reduced to just claiming only eight wickets. The Indian attack did not have to put in a lot of effort as the Galle pitch anyway provided them with consistent bounce and occasional swing, aiding the bowlers to dismiss the Sri Lankan batsmen on regular intervals.
Karunaratne, being a second innings’ specialist fought for more than three hours before even he gave up. It must have been heartbreak for the crowd when Ravichandran Ashwin, ruthlessly, cleaned up his stumps and denied him a sixth Test ton by a mere three runs. Although India eventually slapped Sri Lanka with their biggest Test defeat, Karunaratne’s knock of 97 off 208 balls will always remain one of his most cherished knocks. Another five runs were added before Sri Lanka were bowled out.
Among the Test playing nations, there are two countries that have time after time troubled the 29-year-old Karunaratne – India and Australia. Hence, when he came out to bat in Sri Lanka’s first innings, he certainly was under immense pressure to perform and improve his average of 20.75 against India. The added pressure came in the form of India’s massive total of 600 runs in the opening innings of the Test. Karunaratne, having played 39 Tests prior to the Galle Test, was surely counted amongst the senior men in the team; even then he succumbed under the high-pressure circumstances.
The Galle Test involved mixed memories for Sri Lanka’s opening batsman, who had a forgetful start to the match. Umesh Yadav bowled the second over for India. In the fifth delivery, a super in-swinger from Yadav, pinned right in front of the pad and the on-field umpire took no time to signal Karunaratne as out. He had a small chat with the other opener, Tharanga, and asked for a review for which he was trolled by the Australian third umpire supervised the review and cheekily said on the mike, “This doesn’t look like a great review does it? It looks very much like it’s hitting middle and leg stump.”
A slightly embarrassed Karunaratne for his dismissal for just two runs bowed his head down and walked off.
Karunaratne received a payback chance in two days when he, along with Tharanga, was back at the crease; this time with an enormous target of 550. Out of the seven innings, Karunaratne had batted against India, he was dismissed five times for single digits. He saw a golden opportunity to repair all those poor records and take his country to a miraculous win or at least put up a commendable fight. He did grab the opportunity as he enhanced his reputation of being a specialist second innings batsman, where he now averages 42.14 as against 27.32 in the first. It took him 81 balls to reach a career 12th Test fifty.
In the course, he contributed 41 runs to the 79-run stand with Kusal Mendis for the third wicket. A ray of hope arose in the Sri Lankan camp when Karunaratne and Dickwella batted and proved to be the roadblocks against an outstanding Indian bowling attack. To begin with, Dickwella played several risky shots and his staying at the crease looked short-lived. However, after he survived a few times, he became more careful and went on to support his partner, who remained as calm as possible on the other end taking singles consistently to keep pressure off them. The two went on to share a 101-run partnership for the fifth wicket before Dickwella was dismissed. Soon after that, Karunaratne was also sent back by Ashwin and 15 balls later, India had wrapped up the Test by 304 runs and that was biggest-ever Test win.