It is almost a misconception to call cricket a team sport, because it is individualistic in its essence. Once the game starts it becomes a personal conflict between the batsman and the bowler and the fielders act as the supporting cast.
But it is only natural that the glittering performances with several centuries or wickets in their name promote fans to stardom. As time goes on, it will be Virat Kohli and Steve Smith whose names will be more deeply embedded in cricket-related memories.
On the other hand, there are a number of players who seem to be flying under the radar even after participating for the team. These are not exactly quick for players, although they often come under pressure with significant contributions.
In this series, we look at some of these inferior and obsolete men whose contributions deserve more recognition than they currently do. Dimuth Karunaratne of Sri Lanka is our player in the bottom focus.
Hundreds of years: 9
Sri Lankan cricket has fallen steadily since the retirement of veterans like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan. In the midst of the dramatic decline of the once mighty archipelago, Dimuth Karunaratne still stands tall.
Since making his debut in Sri Lanka in 2012, he is now one of the best opening batsmen in this left-handed Test format. His Test career did not start well, and it was only in 2014 that he became a consistent performer for Sri Lanka.
For a while, Karunaratne wore shoes as a Test specialist and failed to take part in any ODIs between 2015 and 2019. However, his reassuring performances with the bat in red-ball cricket saw that Dakshinpat returned to the ODI outfit for England’s 2019 World Cup.
Not only did Karunaratna return, he was also promoted to captain before the big tournament. He has been playing for Sri Lanka in the Test format since February 2012. Since rejoining the ODI squad, the Colombo-born batsman has shown that he too has the top spot in limited-overs cricket. After 56 matches against New Zealand in the 2012 World Cup, Karunaratne became the second second batsman in history after Ridley Scott to bat in the ICC tournament for the fourth time.
Technically tough batsman, Karunaratne is a reliable performer for Sri Lanka at the top of the order. Opening batting is the most difficult task in cricket, especially against the red-ball in the Test format.
Nevertheless, Karunaratne has established a great reputation in an era where the batting average of openers has declined. A classic old-school batsman, the Sri Lankan is equipped with a strong defense and a good understanding of where his off stump is.
The greatest return of any opening batsman in Test cricket is nine tons in 128 Test innings and 24 half-centuries. A summary of the experience on their list in a Sri Lankan squad, Karunaratna is one of the rare bright spots. The Islanders ’worrying decline means the left-hander’s performance is often overlooked, although he currently deserves to be counted among the best Test players in the world.
What is remarkable about Karunaratne’s performance is that in the third or fourth innings of a Test match, five of the nine tonnes came. With the batting situation generally deteriorating as the game progresses, Karunaratne’s performance in the second half of the Test is commendable.
An added bonus to his batting prowess in his leadership skills, the opener led Sri Lanka to victory in a thrilling overseas series against South Africa as the first Test captain. Karunaratne’s men saw a clean sweep of the 2-0 series as Sri Lanka became the first Asian team in the history of winning a Test series on South African soil.
Definition of latch
158 and 60 vs. South Africa, Gal (2018)
In a match where no player from either side could even manage a half-century, Karunaratne managed to score 216 runs in two innings.
Unlike Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, the Sri Lankan opener was able to score a total of 267 in the hosts’ first innings in an unbeaten 156-run innings. He was only the second Shri in the process. The Sri Lankan player in history took the bat in the Test innings after Russell Arnold.
In Karunaratne’s second innings, South Africa were bowled out for just 12 before being bowled out for a half-century in 190 overs. His Match of the Match helped Sri Lanka to a great victory of 2277 runs over the Proteas. Although Hashim Amla’s choice fought a lot on the pitch.
152 vs New Zealand, Christchurch (2014)
Karunaratne showed second-innings prowess in setting his first Test record, which turned out to be a great endeavor in the end due to the loss.
Southpo made a spectacular 333-run marathon in Vigil after Trent Bolt was dismissed for a wicket in the first innings. His performance gave the spectators some hope of sealing a draw, but they collapsed soon after he was dismissed in the 152-run innings.
In the end, Sri Lanka lost by eight wickets, Karunaratne went head-to-head after scoring a century in Tests.
196 vs Pakistan, Dubai (2017)
It was Sri Lanka’s first attempt with the Day-Night Test, with the opener once again showing his class in a great first-innings effort.
With Sri Lanka at the crease on the way to a series win against Pakistan, his defense was ineligible for 405 balls. Karunaratne’s double-tone in the end was embarrassing for just four runs, although his drop helped the spectators to a 482-run stand in the first innings.
The Islands eventually won the Test by 686 runs and in the process became the first visiting team to beat Pakistan in a Test series at home in the United Arab Emirates.
122 vs New Zealand, Gall (2019)
In the first low-scoring Test between the two sides in Galle, Sri Lanka won by six wickets as Karunaratne’s 122-run margin proved to be the difference in the fourth innings.
After the hosts chased down a challenging target of 226 for victory in the final innings, the Sri Lankan captain made it look much easier with a match-winning display.
He teamed up with co-opener Lahiru Thirimann for 1,161 in the ninth Test on his way to the tenth Test. He was finally out for 122, just 50 runs away from Sri Lanka’s victory.
Since taking charge of the team, Karunaratne’s hat-trick of Test victories as captain has also come on display.
186 vs West Indies, Gal (2015)
Sri Lanka started the series against the West Indies by pushing the galley, Karunaratne set the tone for an innings win.
Along with Koshal Silver, Karunaratne started the innings with a great innings of 484 runs in the first innings to win a great 18-run kirtan in 18 words. Before spinner Rangana Herath’s heroism, skipper Dinesh Chandimal’s 237-run stand for the third wicket broke the West Indies’ resistance. The ball ensured that the hosts would not need to bat again in the Tests.
186 Karunaratne remains the second highest individual Test score.
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