“However, he will know that despite his 63 in the first innings, his job is far from over, as Sri Lanka will once again pin their hopes on the man from Colombo to guide them to a win in what seems an exciting clash”
It needed a moment of brilliance to send a man whose rise on the international scene has been nothing less than awe-inspiring. As Dimuth Karunaratne answered to a tight call by Dhananjaya de Silva, who swatted the ball softly towards point, English all-rounder Ben Stokes was quick to run in from gully and take a shy at the stumps. A phenomenal direct-hit ensured that Karunaratne was well short of his crease. It was England’s moment to exult, for they not only had a wicket after 24.2 overs and 96 runs, but they were also able to send back a dangerous pair that had the ability to take the match away from the visiting team.
The opener, who has realized the importance of a top-order player staying put at the crease for a team’s success, once again stood tall against a fiery English bowling attack. While Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid continued to make constant breakthroughs, Karunaratne was a man on a mission, as he took Sri Lanka to 127 for 3 after the side had been reduced to 31 for 2 within 15 overs, in pursuit of England’s first innings total of 290.
With him looking well set at one end, Dhananjaya de Silva could flex his muscles more freely, as he notched up 59 runs in just 98 deliveries with 6 fours, at a strike-rate of 60.20. The partnership between the duo not only lulled the English bowlers, who were unable to find their lengths, but also set the shoulders drooping in the camp, where very little effort was made to stop the good ball as it zipped past towards the boundary.
While Kaushal Silva was out to a beauty by Leach – bowled off a looped delivery that landed on the middle – and Malinda Pushpakumara was out caught while looking to break the shackles, Karunaratne held one end up even though he looked tentative early on in his innings, especially against Ali. Though he was severe on the bad balls, he never looked at complete ease like de Silva, who was a picture of serenity, with his drives and glides. However, there were two elegant boundaries by Karunaratne, as he shot down overpitched balls by Moeen down the ground, and then later in his innings, when Stokes’ midsirected bouncers were sent away racing, first to midwicket and then to mid on.
The 30-year old fought his way to his seventeenth Test century, reverse-sweeping Leach at intervals even though he avoided sweeping – a ploy that was later used by de Silva as well. Early on, James Anderson was unable to rattle the Sri Lankan, as the latter hung back to the deliveries that were targeted around the off-stump. It allowed him to get a feel of the wicket, and once again took the team out from the depths, something that he has mastered since the start of 2017.
His rise after early jitters in the career
The left-hander had a stop-start beginning to his Test career, but what was unwavering was the faith of the national selectors. He answered this confidence that had been shown to him by emerging as Sri Lanka’s Mr. Dependable in the last 23 months, as he has not only adopted a fearless brand of cricket but has also been able to adapt to different conditions with ease. Since January 2017, his batting average stands at 43.28, which is more than his career average of 37.08. In 19 games since last year, he has amassed 1515 runs with four hundreds – including knocks of 141 against India, 196 against Pakistan and an unbeaten 158 against South Africa. With 8 fifties to his name in this interim as well, his consistency has been much-needed for a team that was struggling to get into their groove since the retirement of the stalwarts.
Though the Sri Lankan is yet to be tested in sterner conditions – he has played only in the subcontinent till not, with 2 games in South Africa, where he averaged 20 – the skills that he has shown makes him an exciting player. Out of the openers who have played at least 20 innings since 2017, Karunaratne stands second in facing most balls per dismissal – 92.20, as against Dean Elgar’s 101.10. However, he will know that despite his 63 in the first innings, his job is far from over, as Sri Lanka will once again pin their hopes on the man from Colombo to guide them to a win in what seems an exciting clash.