A calm demeanor, steely grit, strong defences and a never-say-die attitude describes Dimuth Karunaratne best. Always ready for a fight, the defiant Sri Lankan opener has been one of the few bright spots for Sri Lankan cricket in recent times.
After a disastrous few months in Test cricket, Karunaratne is back among the runs and in this Indian series, he has played well above his teammates who have collapsed in the face of danger.
At Galle, with 550 odd runs to chase and two men down injured, Sri Lanka had all but lost the game. Enter Karunaratne, with his ice cold resolve and smothering drives. He wasn't batting in a bubble or looking to fend away anything and everything thrown at him. He was positive, batted with an intent, unfurled some good looking shots and made 97, before falling to Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s best bowler at Galle. His dismissal effectively sealed Lanka's Test.
Things were no different at the Sinhalese Sports Club in the second Test. Following-on, Sri Lanka had a massive mountain of runs to conquer and had appeared befuddled and lost in the first innings, scrapping their way to 183 in response to 622.
Once again, Karunaratne came to the rescue, carved out a fine partnership of 191 with Kusal Mendis, Sri Lanka's second best for the second wicket against India. He was strong in defence, undisturbed in approach and silently effective.
Yet, he did not put the Indians under pressure at any point of time during his two knocks at Galle and SSC. Why?
The game was already done and dusted with a comeback near impossible. No doubt, Karunaratne was adept, efficient and flowing in these two innings.
But at one point of time, it is worth questioning why he failed to find his groove when it really mattered, in the first innings.
That is the thing about Karunaratne. It can safely be said that he was Sri Lanka's best batsman across these two Tests. None of the others displayed the temperament or determination to ward off India’a relentless spinners. None of the others bothered to put a price on their wicket and battle it out on the pitch. Yet, it was inconsequential. Both of Karunaratne's knocks did not matter except for the score keepers. He could, in no way, impact the final result of the Test.
There is a thin line between a valiant fighter and a victorious fighter. Both of them might put in the same energy and oomph to succeed, but the latter identifies the key moments in the game and grabs them by the scruff of the neck.
That is exactly where Karunaratne fails. His knocks have come way after the date of the game has effectively been sealed. A look at his Test career thus far reveals that this isn't a rare occurrence at all.
Of Karunaratne six Test hundreds, four have come in the second innings of Test matches. He averages 44.88 in the second innings of Test matches as against 27.26 in the first. Two of his hundreds have come with Sri Lanka following-on.
These are bizarre statistics. Batsmen these days prefer the new, hard ball thudding into their perfectly made willows and racing through lightning quick outfields. Not Karunaratne. He seems to have an aversion to the first innings, as though he always needs a target to channelise his strategy.
In 2017, the southpaw averages 43.85 with two hundreds and two half-centuries in seven Test matches. But this 141 at Sinhalese Sports Club has to be his best effort.
With Mendis in full flow at one end, Karunaratne's job was simple. Stay steady and frustrate from one end. He did that to perfection. He reached his half-century off 82 balls when Mendis was already on a run a ball 55. He was in his zone, happy to nudge away anything on his legs or drive anything too full. There was little to no pressure, and Karunaratne had all the freedom in the World to forge a defiant hundred, which he eventually did on the fourth day.
He lost the nightwatchman and his skipper soon after he crossed hundred but found able support from Angelo Mathews. The duo looked the least uncomfortable against India’s spin kings and at one stage the Sri Lankan fans were hoping to see something special at Colombo.
None of that materialised. They did not even cross India's first innings total in two attempts. Karunaratne went for a well made 141, falling to India’s best bowler in the second innings, Ravindra Jadeja. Did it matter? Not in the context of the game. But if the young Lankan brigade can take some inspiration from their valiant hero, Karunaratne, these pointless knocks might find a point after all.