Sri Lanka’s World Test Championship campaign got off to a positive start on August 18, as they beat New Zealand by six wickets in the first Test at Galle.
Mitchell Starc cleaned up Vishwa Fernando with a trademark yorker that brought Australia a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy summer.
Sri Lanka were walloped in Australia. Prior to this, the Kiwis pummelled them. Dinesh Chandimal failed as a captain, having brought his side nowhere close to registering their maiden Test win down under.
However, another corner of the Southern Hemisphere lined up next. The Sri Lankan selectors had no choice but to wield the axe and field a revamped side ahead of another stern examination against South Africa.
It marked the emergence of Dimuth Karunaratne as the skipper of Sri Lanka. That batsman who had accumulated a paltry 94 runs in two Tests against the baggy greens. And a player who was handed the leadership duties of another unrelenting tour.
He came into the captaincy at a time of despair in Sri Lankan cricket. Not only did the opener have the responsibility to set the tone early in the match, but he also had to drag a highly inexperienced side from a bottomless pit.
To everyone’s surprise, the unthinkable took place. Sri Lanka, under their new captain, became the first team from Asia to beat South Africa in their own backyard. Few expected the South African side – boasting a pace-bowling unit as bulldozing as theirs – to lose to the Lankans. But, under Karunaratne, they managed to pull it off.
It led to a belief that Karunaratne was the man to lead. He led an inexperienced side to a creditable World Cup campaign.
In the face of all the hurdles Sri Lanka faced as both a nation and a cricket team, Karunaratne dug his country out of a tough situation.
His current team has planted the seeds. Against New Zealand in Galle this week, he has led his men to a memorable win.
Having looked at the overall context of the game, the captain couldn’t have chosen a better time to come to the fore. His first-innings knock sounded equally promising before sharp spin from Ajaz Patel got him stuck at the crease.
New Zealand’s defiant display, especially in their second innings marshalled by BJ Watling, left the hosts to scale the highest successful run chase at Galle.
Nonetheless, the skipper decided to push hard for the win. It wasn’t smooth proceedings, and he rode his luck, having survived a stumping chance and a few close shaves in terms of catches. His opening partner’s Lahiru Thirimanne’s initial jitters had also heaped pressure on him.
But Karunaratne steered Sri Lanka to the target of 268 for the loss of only four wickets, continuing the resurgence of Sri Lankan cricket in the process.