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Test cricket is Dinesh Chandimal's best format, but his position doesn't look as secure, due to competition from other batsmen and inconsistent scores. He needs a big innings in Chittagong to revive his confidence
Andrew Fidel Fernando
February 2, 2014
Though the 'bromance' in the Sri Lanka camp has now built to near cringe-inducing levels, two young batsmen disagree vehemently on one thing. One, a 22-year-old, has hit an unbeaten ton and a fifty in three innings at Test level, all against Bangladesh, mainly on generous decks. The other, 24, has had 26 completed innings across all internationals in roughly the last 10 months, and has only crossed fifty twice. Of the remaining 24 innings, he has been dismissed for 15 or fewer, 14 times.
Kithuruwan Vithanage, who smashed a maiden ton off a tame attack in the first Test in Mirpur, feels there is no huge leap from first-class cricket to Tests, aside from mental adjustment. His description of Sri Lanka's domestic circuit as "good" is a rare positive assessment of those tournaments.
But then perception, is everything. He has not faced Dale Steyn in South Africa, on Test debut, or stared down Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle in Australia with only the tail for company.
Dinesh Chandimal had done both and emerged with his reputation embellished, and yet, he has spoken of - not the gap - but the vast, gaping chasm between the demands of Sri Lanka's first-class cricket and internationals. But of course, he would say that after the stretch he has had. Forced to bat lower in limited-overs cricket than he is comfortable with, Chandimal's form has been the most conspicuous individual struggle in the national team in the past year.
Few have wished to admit that, however. Chandimal is not only popular with his team and its selectors, he is also admired by the media and the public. Earnest and friendly, with a reputation for hard work and a willingness to learn, he has a past that reads like a superhero origin story. Chandimal's family lost their modest home and belongings in the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, which he and his mother only barely escaped with their lives. Shortly after, he was scouted by one of Colombo's top colleges, whose team he would go on to lead to a record number of outright wins in one of the most competitive school cricket tournaments in the world.
He has endeared himself in other ways. Last year, he had not been picked up in the IPL auction, but when a franchise later made a soft offer - probably to do little more than warm benches for less-than-life-altering money - Chandimal turned it down, opting instead to work on his technique at the time. He has declined to enter the fray this year as well, perhaps aware he is an unappealing cricketer in that format. Stranger things have happened in IPL auctions, though, where young men have made fortunes trying their luck.
As the Chittagong Test approaches, Chandimal's place in the team is largely founded on his situation. Beyond the goodwill bred by his promise and his attitude, Chandimal is set to lead Sri Lanka in the WT20 in seven weeks' time. Tests are by a distance his best format, so to cut him there would be an injury the selectors will be wary of inflicting to his already-fragile confidence.
His perch is made more precarious now by a scrum of competition for a middle-order place from other young guns. Vithanage's ton revealed him a positive, self-possessed batsman. Ashan Priyanjan has arrived as a replacement player in the squad, having recently impressed on ODI debut and freshly struck a first-class ton. Chandimal's clubmate Angelo Perera did even better, belting 244 from 204 balls in the most recent round of matches. Kusal Perera is also capable of batting in the middle order, and has a fine first-class record himself.
The selectors have invested too much in Chandimal to set him loose now, but unless a bold batting statement is forthcoming, pressure will mount on them as much as on the batsman himself. Within a month, Kaushal Silva has almost cemented his place in the side, so Chandimal can no longer fall back on his wicketkeeping either. A score of 40 in the last match does not suggest his situation is all that desperate, but then, no other batsman failed to cross 50, and the team declared on 730 for 6.
"I've been watching Chandi bat and the one thing I know is that he's hitting the ball well," Kumar Sangakkara said. "He's watching the ball and middling it. His intent is spot on. He's looking to dominate the bowlers and reverse pressure. He's just got to stick to that plan and adjust from bowler to bowler and understand that each ball can behave differently - especially when there's a bit of turn on the wicket. In the last Test, he probably wanted to avoid getting out lbw, but left enough space for the ball to turn away from him. Those things happen in cricket.
"The real thing for him is not to lose focus, not to think about other things, but to enjoy what he's doing, because he's batting really well. For Chandi, the great example is in Angelo Mathews - especially over the last tour. All he's got to do is stick to his guns, stick to his strengths, and he's going to score a really big one. That I know."
Sangakkara knows Chandimal better than most, and like so many others, he will be eager to see his trust vindicated. Having retained their top Twenty20 ranking for 16 months, however, Sri Lanka deserve to give themselves the best chance of lifting the trophy in April. If Chandimal is to prove he can be better than a passenger-captain in that campaign, good scores must flow, ideally beginning with runs in his best format, in Chittagong.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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