Dimuth entering unexplored territories

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These days, media interactions with most young cricketers are a stalemate. If you ask them about future ambitions, most of them would pick an IPL deal or playing in a World Cup. Too predictable.

Nothing wrong in that, but nobody is saying that he wants to break Murali’s record or those of Sanga’s for that matter. ‘If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,’ said Ellen Johnson Sirlea, the first female elected President in Africa. Dimuth Karunaratne this week ventured into unexplored territory. He would love the double of 100 Tests and 10,000 runs, it seems.

Big boys Sanga (12400) and MJ (11813) are on top of the list as the only Sri Lankans to join the exclusive club of 10,000 run scorers and then there’s a massive gap. No other Sri Lankan has scored 7000 Test runs. Dimuth will soon knock off some big names. He has 5406 runs to his credit and if he gets 96 runs in the next Test starting Monday, he will knock off Tilan Samaraweera (5462), T.M. Dilshan (5492) and Marvan Atapattu (5502). That’s some big names and by the end of next week, he will be Sri Lanka’s sixth highest run getter. Quite impressive for a someone who started his career and gave the impression of ‘trial and drop out’ when he picked up a duck on debut.

Wanderers in South Africa give Sri Lankans nightmares. Popularly known as the Bullring for its intimidating nature, the Proteas blow away opposition teams here as the pace and bounce is tough to cope with. Before this year, Sri Lanka had played two Tests at Wanderers and had lost both by innings margin. There was little hope when Sri Lanka started off the New Year with a Test match in one of the toughest places for batsmen. There had been just a solitary half-century by a Sri Lankan at Wanderers in the previous two Tests.

Dimuth played so well and became the first Sri Lankan to score a hundred at the Wanderers. That confidence has stood him in good stead as he has smashed four hundreds this year. He is also the third highest run getter this year in Tests. His 854 runs have come in six Tests. The top two run scorers in 2021; Joe Root and Rohit Sharma have played twice as many games as the Sri Lankan. Root will end this year with 15 Tests and Rohit with 14. Poor Dimuth only seven. That’s another point to debate. Do we play enough Test matches?

Just to pivot away from the main topic, it seems that we are content to play three Tests only against India and England and maybe Australia. The sole reason being the commercial benefits. The rest, we are content with two Test series. Since 2015, we have not hosted anyone outside the big three for three Tests!  That’s quite damning.

Coming back to Dimuth, it’s quite remarkable that between May and November he had not played any First Class cricket and coming into the Test series he had little momentum behind him. It was a nervous start indeed but the more time he spent out in the middle, the more attractive his batting looked.

Spin was heavily used by both teams and at a time when sweep seems to be the release shot of most Sri Lankans against spin, Dimuth has other options. He flicks, drives, cuts, dances down the ground and clears mid-off. Of course, he pulls against spin. Nobody knows that better than poor Jeremy Solozano.

Frank is Dimuth’s middle name. Fittingly, he goes about things frankly. Not often players come out to press conferences and say that they want this record or the other. The standard answer is that I don’t play for records and I want the team to do well. Not Dimuth though. He just speaks his mind out and he is at ease with everything. He has modeled the team in his image. There’s not much tension when you see the Sri Lankan team. They are just chilled. Sometimes too easy going perhaps that they need to be put back on track.

When you have the firmness of Mickey Arthur in the dressing room, you probably need a friendly captain. Dimuth’s winning percentage as captain now is 40. Only three other Sri Lankans captains; Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene at 47 percentage each and Marvan Atapattu at 44 percentage have better winning ratios.

Of course, Dimuth has the unique record of being the first Asian captain to win a Test series in South Africa and with his inimitable style he will go onto achieve much more. India in February – March is quite exciting.

It’s been a tough year for Dimuth no doubt.  Asked to take up a captaincy that nobody wanted two years ago, he was unceremoniously dumped as ODI captain when the white ball transition happened. Looks like the selectors have run out of choices. He’s set to now lead the ODI team again with Dasun Shanaka concentrating on T-20 cricket alone.