London: Sri Lanka maybe not covering themselves in glory at this World Cup but at least their captain Dimuth Karunaratne is showing some fight. Despite two of their games being washed out, the left-hander is amongst the top ten run-scorers in the competition with 179 runs to his credit at an average of 85. He batted well against Australia at The Oval on Saturday as well, posting a career-best 97 and missed out on becoming only the third Sri Lankan to score a hundred against Australia in World Cups.
More importantly, he is proving his critics wrong. Kumar Sangakkara once said that like God, selectors move about things mysteriously. Truer words haven’t been spoken. Mysterious are the ways of Sri Lanka’s selectors.
Karunaratne broke into the Sri Lankan side in 2011 on the back of some noteworthy performances in domestic one-day cricket. He made his Sri Lankan debut as an ODI player and had to wait for more than a year to receive his Test cap.
He made an immediate impact in Test cricket but needed time to find his feet in the shorter format of the game. Due to the presence of big three — Sanga, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan, soon he was pushed to the middle order in ODIs. It is in the middle order he made his first World Cup appearance in 2015.
Suddenly, for the next four years, he fell out of favour in the ODI team. Not that Sri Lankans had an abundance of talent in white-ball cricket, but there was this misconception that he was more suited to Test cricket. Successive selection panels gave him the cold shoulder despite the fact that the team was not being able to bat through the 50 overs.
He was picked in the World Cup squad not because that he could give them a solid start, but the selectors were unable to find a captain. Karunaratne was Hobson’s choice.
This has been a tough year for Karunaratne. Faced with a barrage of short-pitched bowling during his team’s tour of Australia, the left-hander copped a nasty one on the back of his helmet. He was lifted off the field, put in an ambulance and taken to hospital for treatment. He was discharged the next morning, but his confidence was shattered.
Sri Lanka flew to South Africa straight from Australia, and at the end of the tour Down Under, the selectors made a big call to hand him the Test captaincy. He created history becoming the first Asian captain to win a Test series in South Africa.
A few weeks later, there was more trouble. Driving back home in the wee hours of Saturday, after a late night party in Colombo, his jeep collided with a trishaw. He called up an ambulance and ensured the injured driver’s safety but was charged for drunk driving. Sri Lanka Cricket fined him US$ 7500 and he showed up at the magistrate’s court to face charges.
Still, Karunaratne was seen as the man who could unite a side where there were deep divisions. He has not only brought the side together but been their best batsman too leading from the front.
The Aussies were expected to pepper him with bouncers on Saturday. But he overcame that challenge. Early this year, he was half-heartedly playing the bouncer. Now, he has made up his mind to leave it alone.
He has scored at a decent rate as well, finishing with a strike rate of 89. So what was the fuss about? Why was he shunted from the ODI side all this while?
Surely, an international sportsman should be able to adapt to different formats. Not that Karunaratne didn’t have the mindset to make the adjustment, but Sri Lanka were just clueless.
As long as he was there, Sri Lanka fancied their chances against the Aussies. He looked solid against Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc and was unbowed, defended well and put pressure on the two bowlers cashing in when the opportunity was there. With more discipline from the middle order, Sri Lanka should have pulled this off. Once your openers add 115 in 93 balls, the rest of the batting should finish it.
Despite his brilliance, Sri Lanka failed to bat out their quota of 50 overs; a mistake they have committed repeatedly. Karunaratne will have to take stock of his game and should have the conviction to show patience when he gets bogged down unable to find the boundary. That proved to be his undoing at The Oval.
His role solely should be batting through the 50 overs. Something that Marvan Atapattu used to do before him so well. Some tough assignments are ahead of the former champions. Karunaratne has become the mainstay of their batting. What a waste of time the last four years have been.