Published on October 7th, 2017 | by Sakshi Gupta0
The rise of versatile Dimuth Karunaratne
Sri Lanka are No. 7 in the ICC Test Team Rankings and the fact that they are only ranked above teams such as West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are of serious concern. The win over Pakistan in the first Test in the ongoing two-Test series came as a revival factor in Sri Lankan cricket and since Sri Lanka became the first-ever team to defeat Pakistan in a Test in Abu Dhabi only bolstered their confidence. Keeping the positives from the win aside, looking at the existing worries in the Sri Lankan team, their batting is the top concern at the moment.
In the first Test, Sri Lanka managed to put up a massive 400+ total in the first innings because a couple of players stepped up and delivered for the side. But they once again struggled in the second innings as the other batsmen could not take the charge when the first innings heroes also failed with the bat. The visiting team, who bundled out for a mere 138 in the second innings, was fortunate as their spin leader, Rangana Herath, produced yet another incredible show and led his side to a close victory by 21 runs.
Sri Lanka’s former captain and one of the most reliable batsmen in the side, at present, Angelo Matthews has been struck by a calf injury and has been ruled out of the Pakistan series. Whenever the top order suffered a collapse, the tension would not hit the side until Matthews was still in line. Matthews has shouldered the responsibility at No. 5 or 6 for a very long time now so it gets tricky for Sri Lanka when they have to play a strategy without him, especially in a match as vital as their debut pink ball-Test.
However, there has been a player who has realised how crucial it is for him to give Sri Lanka the starts. The opening batsman, Dimuth Karunaratne, once again stood strong against a sturdy Pakistan’s bowling attack. The two most important bowlers in Pakistan’s squad – Yasir Shah and Mohammad Amir – continued to trouble the Lankan batsmen, make breakthroughs but the duo just did not manage to create any pressure on Karunaratne. With the utmost control and smoothness, the opener took Sri Lanka from 136 for 3 to 254 for 3 at stumps on the first day.
Last time a Sri Lankan opener before Dimuth Karunaratne survived the 1st day of an away Test was Marvan Atapattu, 2003. (*Full-day) #SLvPAK
— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) October 6, 2017
It goes without saying that whenever a top-order batsman gives the required start in a match, the pressure automatically reduces and the other batsmen have the luxury to play their natural game freely. Now that Karunaratne was well set on one end, even the debutant Sadeera Samarawickrama contributed a delightful 38 and Captain Dinesh Chandimal is well on the verge of an excellent fifty. In the previous Test, the Lankan heroes in the first innings were centurion Chandimal and Karunaratne, who fell seven runs short of a beautiful century.
While Sadeera displayed a boundary-filled cameo, Kushal Silva was seemed a delight to watch and skipper also looks like he has been forcing himself forward, Karunaratne had enjoyed his innings with every ball. He was never beaten and he really never went after the attack, apart from the over where he smashed three boundaries off Mohammad Amir just before the tea break. Otherwise, he flicked the balls to his favourite midwicket area and played the spinners to the square leg region. Out of the 16 boundaries, he scored on the opening day, 11 came on the leg side.
Well played @IamDimuth once again showed maturity and experience. More work to do… 👍
— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) October 6, 2017
When Sri Lanka resumed Day two, Chandimal (49*) and Karunaratne (133*) quite easily carried the momentum from the first day. Now that both Pakistan spinners and fast bowlers look in some good touch, a high total was mandatory for Sri Lanka in order to stay ahead in the match. Which meant Karunaratne had to stick around for more time. He has been in sheer form. In amidst Sri Lanka’s forgettable phase, where they have lost to India, Bangladesh, South Africa and were almost defeated by bottom-ranked Zimbabwe in the one-off Test, Karunaratne has steadily and smartly crafted his way in terms of numbers.
The first session of the second day, fair and square, belonged to the Sri Lankans. The atmosphere in the Pakistan camp can be guessed without any difficulties as their coach Mickey Arthur, sitting in the stands, gives away everything with his elaborate expressions. The coaching team of Arthur and Azhar Mahmood seemed anything but pleased during the hours in the second session. While Pakistan managed a consolation wicket in that session, nothing went their way. The Sri Lankan batsmen, Karunaratne especially, kept the scoreboard ticking with an ease and was well on his way to his maiden Test double.
Mohammad Amir had to leave the field for a while, Wahab Riaz had been failing miserably with his bowling tactics and all the mess clearly made the Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed seemed tetchy in frustration.
Pakistan woes on the field only added an advantage to Karunaratne. When Yasir, Pakistan’s best spinner, troubled most of the Sri Lankan batsmen with the turn, Karunaratne negated that smartly. He conquered the swing from Amir and came out as the winner; Wahab Riaz, for most of the innings was not good enough to shake the Sri Lankan until the fateful delivery in the 142nd over. Karunaratne became the recent victim of the nervous 190s when he terribly played the knuckleball from Wahab. After scoring with an ease almost throughout the one and a half days he had batted, he had begun to struggle as soon as he entered the 190s. He could add only six runs off 24 balls after he touched 190.
— Deepu Narayana (@deeputalks) October 7, 2017
Maybe he just succumbed to the pressure of a personal landmark being a few runs away. Had it scored the 200 on Saturday, he would have become Sri Lanka’s only second opener after Jayasuriya to score a Test double hundred.
Nevertheless, he is gradually and steadily becoming Sri Lanka’s new Mr. Dependable in the Tests. Karunaratne, in his last 10 Test innings, has two scores in 90s, a hundred and a 196 and on a consistent basis he has stepped up to push Sri Lanka up with a great start.
Karunaratne in 2017
This form, however, was long due for him, for all the wait and struggles he faced during initial steps in his career. The selectors had shown unbelievable faith in the man and now finally, the faith is being paid for the team. He is the new Karunaratne, who has developed a fearless and more confident game and has become more flexible and seems to adopt any kind of conditions with no time.
— Daniel Alexander (@daniel86cricket) October 7, 2017
Having played 10 Tests, so far in 2017, Karunaratne has already scored 933 runs at 49.10 and is running third in the calendar year behind Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla. His century in Dubai on Friday was his third hundred of 2017 and along with that he also has three half-centuries. Last time a Sri Lankan opener scored three or more centuries in a year, before Karunaratne in 2017 was Tillakaratne Dilshan who did that in 2012 and 2009. In the current situation in Dubai, Sri Lanka needs Karunaratne to convert his hundred into a double hundred to ensure a massive total for Pakistan when they come out to bat.