Dimuth Karunaratne is not someone who is in the same league as that of batsmen like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson or Joe Root. He does not even rank among the top 10 batsmen in any format in the world at present. However, that has hardly mattered, as he is improving as a batsman day by day with his consistent string of big hundreds in Test cricket. He has displayed tremendous grit, determination and solidarity at the top of the order in his 44-Tests long career for Sri Lanka so far. Not to forget, his epic innings against Pakistan on Sunday that unfortunately ended just four runs shy of a double hundred and lasted a total of nine hours and seven minutes, once again, brought forward his batting qualities like reliability and solidarity in tough conditions.
Sri Lankan cricket has gone through a pretty tough period in recent times. They were criticised quite heavily after their whitewash in both Test and ODI series and loss in the one-off T20I at the hands of a ruthless Indian team. The fragile batting order of the team that kept collapsing again and again in the Test series was one of the main reasons for their 3-0 whitewash in the series. However, it was only Karunaratne who showed the stomach for a fight with an innings of 97 in the first Test match at Galle and 141 in the second Test at Colombo. He turned out to be the lone ranger with the bat for Sri Lanka as he scored 285 runs in three matches at an average of 47.50 in that disastrous series.
That tough time is gone now. The heavy defeat to India has hurt the Sri Lankan team pretty badly and they are now showing the willingness to set their record straight once again with their improved showing against Pakistan in the Test series in the UAE. And Karunaratne’s contribution again stands tall in their impressive performance in the series so far. He showed that he was hungry to win after ending up on the wrong side of the results despite impressive individual performances.
“We had a bad series against India. We want to desperately win this series. We are hungry. We just want to play our best and give our best and win the series,” said Karunaratne.
His innings of 93 that came after facing a total of 205 deliveries in the first innings of the Abu Dhabi Test match was clinical in setting up the platform for a victory for the Sri Lankan side. And now, his innings of 196 in the second Test at Dubai has once again given the team a chance to go and register a series victory against Pakistan who haven’t yet lost a series in the UAE ever.
He might not be considered as one of the best in the world. However, with his performances in 2017, he has made sure that he is rising up the ladder pretty quickly to attain the status of the present day greats of Test cricket. The fact that he is the third highest scorer in Tests in 2017, with 933 runs to his name in 10 Test matches, highlights his contribution to Sri Lankan cricket in such a time of crisis. Only Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar are ahead of him with 942 and 1097 runs to their names respectively. And the modern day ‘fabulous four’ of Kohli, Smith, Williamson and Root are not even close to touching his record this year so far.
Moreover, his innings of 126 against Bangladesh in Colombo earlier this year that helped them draw the two-match series at home from a precarious position and an inning of 152 against New Zealand at Christchurch back in 2014 after following on, further proves his ability to perform under pressure and show his sense of responsibility as a player.
On Sunday, he also became only the 12th Sri Lankan to have crossed the 3000-run mark in Test cricket when he hit Mohammad Amir for a boundary to move on to a score of 141. His Test career now seems to have taken off which consists of seven hundreds and 13 fifties in a span of 44 Tests. He could have had more than the actual number of hundreds today if he had not been a victim of nervous nineties a couple of times in his career. Moreover, he has also missed out on scoring a double hundred a couple of times – once against the West Indies at Galle in 2015 when he got dismissed on 186 and again on Sunday when he fell just four runs short of the milestone. However, he won’t regret much as his failure to convert them into the expected milestones has hurt the team the least with his contribution helping them to come out on top with a victory on both occasions.
During his epic knock of 196 in Dubai, Karunaratne not only showed his determined and gritty approach towards the game but also took upon the responsibility of a senior player boosting the confidence of the debutant Sadeera Samarawickrama with his little pep talks during their 68-run stand on Day 1. He is the second most experienced player in an inexperienced Sri Lankan side with 44 Tests to his name, next only to Rangana Herath who has played 85 Tests.
“He played well today. I tried to give him confidence and he was very positive. I told him just to play his game. He had no fear and was very comfortable. Once he gets more experienced at this level he will convert them into big ones I am pretty sure,” Karunaratne told reporters after his epic knock.
Although his Test career seems to be off and running towards the right direction, his ODI career is presently at a deadlock with numbers reading just a 190 runs in 17 matches at a dismal average of 15.83. However, with his good run in Tests, it is imperative now that he may get a run in ODIs soon considering the lack of a batsman in the ODI side who can anchor the innings all the way. Even he is eager to make a comeback into the ODIs as he conveyed.
“I have scored a century with the red ball, century with the pink ball and I’m now looking for a white ball century,” said the 29-year old left-handed batsman.
Sri Lankan cricket is undergoing a reconstruction period at the moment and Karunaratne looks like a rock who is weathering all the tough waves and storms to shield and help the inexperienced players perform to their potential. He has been their 'Wall' in their times of crisis bailing them out of tricky situations match after match. The dependability that he has brought to the plate as a batsman for Sri Lanka in recent times is unmatched. He is really an epitome of reliability and solidarity at the moment for Sri Lanka at the top of their batting order.