April 16, 2023 was no ordinary day in the life of the cricket fan. Truth be told, there was no dearth of action for the lover of T20 cricket with there being not one, but two IPL games.
While on the one hand, the Rajasthan Royals put their nose up ahead of the Gujarat Titans’, the Mumbai Indians made lightwork of the Kolkata Knight Riders. Captivating action punctuated by big hits made the life of the cricket devotee quite happening on that Sunday.
But was that all that took place in the cricket world on the most awaited day of the week?
Hundreds of miles away from the deafening beat of the IPL, Ireland were about to script a major moment in their cricketing journey in Sri Lanka.
Having just recently marked their return to Test cricket by playing Bangladesh in a one-off Test, they were about to begin, for the first time ever, a two-match series in the Indian sub-continent.
The attention shifted to the Galle International stadium, where completely unbeknownst to Andy Balbirnie’s team, one man was to completely jilter aside the Irish Test unit.
Newcomers that they may be to international Test match cricket, this wasn’t some ICC minion; with players like Adair, Tector, Balbirnie himself, Campher and their most recent Test centurion Lorcan Tucker, Ireland fielded anything but a depleted unit.
But then Dimuth Karunaratne had different plans on his mind.
Inside the space of a single day, Dimuth Karunaratne produced 179 runs on his own; Sri Lanka scored 386 for the loss of 4 wickets upon the completion of the opening day.
On a day where Nishan Madhuka and even the great Angelo Mathews failed to get going, Dimuth Karunaratne combined the power of concentration and that gift of timing to send the Irish out on a leather hunt.
But this Test hundred, interestingly the fifteenth of his career, was one marked with a difference; he’d end up with a very one day strike rate of 76.
As it turned out, neither Karunaratne nor any of his compatriots had to come out to bat again in the contest; the bludgeoning century coupled with Dhananjaya’s 140 proved too good for Ireland’s match.
Eventually, the quiet Sri Lankan oversaw his side to an eleventh Test match victory in 27 five-dayers.
To the naysayers of Test Cricket; those who seem obsessed with switch hits in this T20 age, attaching less significance to virtues like patience, this was just another routine outcome. But in the context of Sri Lankan cricket, a side that’s been easily found wanting against big opponents such as India in the long format, this was a win nonetheless.
It was a victory against a full-time ICC member, regardless of it being a newbie, albeit one the Sri Lankans had absolutely no prior idea of playing.
But as it turns out, much like his rather unappreciated batting skills in the highest form of the game, Dimuth Karunaratne’s captaincy too has gone rather unnoticed or immensely under-appreciated.
Ask any IPL obsessed what might be Harry Brook’s strike rate in this IPL? You could even ask the T20 besotted the fastest delivery ever bowled by Umran thus far?
But if you asked the same lot who was the captain of the Sri Lankan team when they engineered that sudden South African heartbreak at Durban winning the 2019 Test by 1 wicket, only confused looks or uncertain reactions may follow.
Perhaps the number of people who’d remember Dimuth Karunaratne began his Test assignment on a victory note, that made its way to Wisden (for featuring among the greatest innings ever; Perera) would be akin to counting the number of people using a walkman to hear music in an age of Spotify.
But that the left hander converted his debut assignment as Test skipper into a 2-nil series triumph away from Sri Lankan soil isn’t the only facet that has since remained under appreciated.
That there are more people who remember which Indian actress is rumored to be dating Pant or which cricketer Virat Kohli most recently unfollowed on Instagram and not the fact that Dimuth Karunaratne is the holder of some 6,400 Test runs offers a glaring view of just what our priorities are as fans and avid followers of the game.
Somewhere it suggests the extent to which the Cricket fan has decided to consume sensationalism, ignoring real substance in the process.
And where it concerns Sri Lanka, then quite frankly, Dimuth Karunaratne is the real substance that defines its cricket.
In the post Sangakkara and Jayawardene era, where the likes of Lasith Malinga and Rangana Herath were able to entertain fans ever so briefly before retiring, it’s much largely to Dimuth Karunaratne that the fans have continued to rest hopes on Sri Lankan cricket.
A straightforward captain with a thinking brain, a calm leader who assures clarity of thought under pressure, Karunaratne’s uncomplicated approach allied to the above has lent some sort of a bite to a cricket team that seemed utterly banal in the period of several heroes’ retirement.
And in 2021, putting all these strengths to good effect, Dimuth Karunaratne scaled what might be considered his greatest moment yet in the game, especially post the Durban fairytale outing.
After Shanto, Mominul and Rahim clubbed his Sri Lankan team with rich aplomb at Kandy in Pallakele during the opening Test, putting a mammoth 541 in the process, Dimuth Karunaratne dug a pit of concentration staying unmoved for 437 deliveries during his tour-de-force 244.
Had bad light not struck on Day 4, there was no way that Karunaratne was not scoring a few more.
Interestingly, that same year Karunaratne exercised unflinching concentration to guide his team to a wonderful 187-run win at Galle, wherein his 147 (300 deliveries) frustrated a rather powerful attack featuring Holder, Gabriel and of course, the now nowhere-to-be-found Cornwall.
A Sri Lankan who bats in the mould of Shivnarine Chanderpaul meets Sir Alastair Cook, Karunaratne’s made compelling runs in the format that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a shame that he couldn’t quite make it big in ODI’s.
But at a time where the home fans are quite distraught in learning that their team haven’t automatically qualified for the 2023 ODI world cup, Karunaratne’s ubiquity at the Test level offers hope that not all’s wrong with the enigma that’s Sri Lankan cricket.
Having turned 35 but with great fitness on his side, one hopes the man with unwavering focus and that innocent smile can guide his team to something worth savouring for a few more years.