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Is Dinesh Chandimal finally living up to his potential?

Last updated on 11 Jul 2022 | 12:11 AM
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Is Dinesh Chandimal finally living up to his potential?

Dinesh Chandimal's Test career might have more life to it than previously expected, but how long is the question

It was March of 2013. Dinesh Chandimal, batting in his 11th Test innings, scored his first international hundred at Galle against Bangladesh. It was a barren pitch devoid of any movement for bowlers. It was the norm at that time with sub-continental pitches. He spent over three hours at the crease and remained not out on 116. One of the other two centurions in that innings – Kumar Sangakkara – was in the twilight of his career. Chandimal, who had already scored four fifties from his first ten Test innings, had the potential to fill in those big shoes.

Chandimal was there again at the same venue on July 10, 2022 against Australia, wiser by 112 innings and nine years in international cricket. Test cricket moved in a direction of balance and so did the surface at Galle. Walking in at no.5, Chandimal faced off a strong Australian bowling unit for 232 balls and remained unbeaten on 118. 

This time, he was the top scorer for Sri Lanka as four others scored fifties. Chandimal had come a long way from being touted as Sangakkara’s successor, but not the way everyone expected him to. 

He is among the most experienced heads in the Sri Lankan dressing room, but it is not the most evident thing on the pitch. It has been the case with Chandimal over the years.

Soon after his first century, Chandimal notched up another hundred and a fifty which was followed by just one hundred in the next 12 innings stretched across two years. Then there was the epic 162 not out against India, again at Galle, which should’ve ensured his take-off into the big league. Except it didn’t.

Sri Lanka’s transition since the mid-2010s has been a rocky one and Chandimal exemplifies the spectacular they are capable of and the spontaneous self-destruction. In the first Test against Australia, Sri Lankan batters made a strange choice to attack with sweep shot. Not that sweeping is bad against spin, but when you have a pitch that’s bouncy and Nathan Lyon putting extra revs on the ball to exploit that bounce, it becomes counterproductive. They folded their second innings for 113 and Australia won by 10 wickets.

While other batters suffered with their choices, Chandimal made it more easier for the Australians by edging his first ball to the slip in the first innings and then getting foxed by part-timer Travis Head in the second innings.

Sri Lanka struggled yet again in the second Test going for the sweep shot at the wrong time, but this time Chandimal was careful with his defence and choosy with his big shots. He got lucky a couple of times, but the chances were not gifted to the Aussies. Him remaining not out at the end of the third day meant Sri Lanka have control of the match. 

Just a month ago, he had played an equally crafty knock of 124 against Bangladesh which was key in Lanka winning the series. However, those two were Chandimal’s only hundreds since June 2018. That is a long drought for a talented player who is capable of turning matches around on his brightest day.

Sri Lanka’s management has also made a few questionable decisions with Chandimal’s role in the team. Even though he has scored most of his runs at No.5, he has been shuffled between No.4 and No.8 over the past 12 months which hasn’t done them any favours.

When he was the Test captain from 2017 until January last year, Chandimal had enjoyed a decent run with the bat. Five fifties and three hundreds came while batting at No.5 during that period. Whenever he batted at higher or lower, he fared abysmally. In order to keep playing at the highest level one has to get out of their comfort zone, but a stable role is also required for a player to consistently perform.

As his form fluctuated, Chandimal found himself competing with the likes of Charith Asalanka, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis for a while now. When Sri Lanka toured India for two Tests in March, he was dropped in favour of Asalanka who barely played red-ball cricket at domestic level. 

Besides Bangladesh, Chandimal had scored most of his Test runs against India – 750 runs from 16 innings at an average of 50. It’s difficult to say if it was less humiliating than sacking him as the Test captain and then demoting to Sri Lanka A in 2021. 

Had Dickwella not been banned for breaking COVID-19 protocols last year, Chandimal’s Test career would not have seen a revival. How much long does he have to prove his worth is up for debate.

Chandimal’s situation in the limited-overs team is pretty much the same. He raked up runs in the last Lanka Premier League and then failed in the T20I series against Australia and India. But it is a format where Sri Lanka can chose to not have Chandimal considering the new crop of players. 

But their Test team does need a consistent performer given a well-defined role in order to do well against top teams.

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