Coming of age of Chandimal


This is the moment when Kaushal Silva completed his century and Chandimal (on right) gives the impression that he had reached three figures. Chandimal is a fine team man.

by Rex Clementine


Our splendid sports reporter Reemus Fernando had told us plenty about this raw talent from Ambalangoda called Dinesh Chandimal. Later a lot was heard of him as he represented Ananda College. When the selectors picked him to represent Sri Lanka Board President’s XI against touring New Zealanders at the age of 19, we rushed to the Colts Cricket ground to see how the next biggest thing in Sri Lankan cricket would fare against Tuffey, Martin, Oram and Vettori. It happened to be Chandimal’s First Class debut too.

For a player to make his First Class debut against a touring side even before he had played club cricket, gives you an indication the weight of expectations on the youngster.

He looked confident and organized and wasn’t rattled by the opposition’s verbals. Chandimal’s approach was a bold one. He was strong on the back foot cutting and pulling the seamers while against the spinners his footwork looked near perfect with some neat drives as he raced to a half-century. His 64 contained 11 boundaries. We returned to office that day convinced that a star is in the making.

We also knew that while Chandimal was exciting to watch, like some of the other exciting Sri Lankan batsmen before him, he could be brash and consistency wasn’t something to look forward to from him. Until last week he didn’t disappoint us. He lived by the sword and died by it.

Chandimal’s Test debut was in December 2011 in South Africa, the hardest place to play cricket perhaps. After Sri Lanka had lost the first Test at the Centurion by an innings, Kaushal Silva was dropped and Chandimal was brought in as wicketkeeper. The Test was played in Durban and it was a memorable one as Sri Lanka recorded their first ever Test win on South African soil.

Chandimal was solid and him at number seven gave the side depth in batting. He hit fifties in both innings. Duleep Mendis, the Chairman of Selectors, was furious that he didn’t go onto get a big one. Chandimal has not looked back since.

He continued to bat with freedom in the lower middle order at a time when guys like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were around. But once the seniors were gone, you always suspected how he would adapt. His temperament was such that he would continue to play shots.

But what you witnessed at SSC earlier this week was quite the contrast.

Sri Lanka’s dreams of a clean-sweep against Australia went awry as they slumped to 26 for five. Chandimal then played the innings of his life.

Many fans would argue that his 162 in Galle against India last year as Chandimal’s best knock so far. Rightly so as he turned a game that Sri Lanka were never going to win on its head.

On that instance, Sri Lanka had conceded a first innings lead of 192 runs and then lost the top three batsmen with just five runs on the board. Soon it was 95 for five. Still needing 100 runs to avoid innings defeat.

The day three Galle track was turning square. Chandimal with his audacious stroke play where he swept and revers-we swept came up with his career best score of 162 not out. After being 95 for five, Sri Lanka went onto put up 367. That set India a target of 176 and that was enough for Rangana Herath to spin his magic.

But the century at SSC was the one where Chandimal matured. Naturally an attacking player, he played second fiddle to Dhananjaya de Silva just blocking and rotating the strike. It was Chandimal’s slowest Test hundred and the 211 run stand for the sixth wicket is the second highest by Sri Lanka against Australia for any wicket.

The moment Dhananjaya was dismissed, Chandimal cut loose with an array of attacking shots just as if to convince us that he could change gears at will.

"Batting in those circumstances is not fun at all," coach Graham Ford said. "I think Chandi took on the hard work, which shows great maturity. It’s t probably the most valuable innings he’s played. I know he played a blinder against India last year, but this one for temperament and fight in difficult conditions goes down as his best hundred," Ford added.

With a couple of young players of the caliber of Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva emerging, Chandimal has shown the adaptability that he can fit in for new roles as greater challengers await Sri Lanka in southern Africa later this year.

We were all told repeatedly that Lahiru Thirimanne is the next big thing in Sri Lankan cricket. But it is Chandimal who has defied soothsayers. The Island many years ago predicted that if there were someone to break Kumar Sangakkara’s batting records, it’s got to be Chandimal. Exciting times are ahead of us.

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