Karunaratne makes his debut count
If a run-a-ball 60 not out in the second innings in Galle swelled opener Dimuth Karunaratne's confidence, an affirmation of his talent by the Sri Lanka selectors a day later will have him feeling bulletproof. One Test into his career, Karunaratne has earned a trip to Australia on Sri Lanka's most high-profile Test tour in years, and can now dream of taking the field amid the MCG's Boxing Day hubbub. He will likely have to displace his Sinhala Sports Club opening partner Tharanga Paranavitana to get a game in Australia, but it is not a tour he would have expected to be on at all after his first Test innings.
He made a duck on Sunday, extending a tradition plenty of Sri Lankan openers have contributed to. His batting coach Marvan Atapattu began with a Test pair, and team manager Charith Senanayake started with a nought. Even Paranavitana at the other end was dismissed without scoring in his first Test - a legacy he had inherited from Malinda Warnapura, his partner on debut.
"When I got out, Angie [Angelo Mathews] came to me and said, 'Don't worry man, I got out for a duck in my debut as well'," Karunaratne said. " A few others said that as well. No one scolded me or was harsh on me. They just said, 'Don't worry about it. It's in the past, just think about the future. You can bounce back from this.' I'm lucky that I get to play with understanding cricketers like that."
It is perhaps testament to the character of both the cricketer and the dressing-room culture that eager youngsters can have their best coaxed out of them, even after early setbacks. Captain Mahela Jaywardene said he was encouraged by Karunaratne's self-belief in the manner in which he recovered from the failure.
"If you watched some of his shots, you can tell he is a talented cricketer," Jayawardene said. "I think he has a good future, but Tests aren't easy. He will need to learn, but he's a good batsman.
"I have played with Dimuth at the SSC, so I know what he is like mentally. When he got out, he was quite disappointed, but we didn't try to tell him much at that stage. It's important that for a young player, we don't crowd his mind in a moment like that. We let him play as he played. When we were fielding is when I talked to him, and I said, 'Play like you play in a club match'."
Karunaratne revealed himself as a stroke-maker during his maiden fifty, striking nine fours in his innings, and finishing with the best strike rate for any batsman who scored more than 15 in the match. He was particularly powerful through the legside, hitting six of his boundaries there, and was unafraid to attack the short ball. He was only drafted into the side the week before the Test, after Tillakaratne Dilshan's back injury ruled him out.
"I thought I would be in the initial squad, but I wasn't," Karunaratne said. "But still I didn't give up hope. I kept playing well and when Dilshan aiya was injured I was able to join the squad. I was desperate to take my chance when it came, and I think that's what I did."
He was selected for the New Zealand series thanks largely to his exploits for the Sri Lanka A team in South Africa, where he was the highest run scorer in two unofficial Tests, with 270 runs at an average of 90. He is among a growing number of young Sri Lankan batsmen who have found early success on fast, bouncy surfaces, and this was likely a major cause for his inclusion in the squad to Australia.
"I'm very happy. I got this opportunity after two years of playing well and even though I couldn't get any runs in the first innings, I did my best for the team in the second innings and showed everyone what I can do."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka