SL in NZ 2015-16 December 8, 2015

Karunaratne relishing senior role


Dimuth Karunaratne - "We don't have greats in the team anymore, so it's up to us" © Getty Images

A 27-year-old opening batsman, 23 Tests in, and still developing the guts of his technique may reasonably expect a senior's arm around his shoulder and a wise word from time to time. For three years, since his debut in late 2012, Dimuth Karunaratne got that from the greats he used to share a dressing room with.

But now, only 12 months after winning his way back to the Test side, Karunaratne finds himself dishing out advice. It is his arm around someone else's shoulder now; his war stories team-mates are listening to.

Such is the dearth of experience in Sri Lanka's top order, that Karunaratne is a relative old hand in the batting unit. Of the others on tour, Udara Jayasundera is yet to debut, Milinda Siriwardana has played only two Tests, and Kusal Mendis - at 20-years-old - has had one Test outing, and 11 senior games in total.

Among the batsmen likely to play in the first Test, Karunaratne is among just three batsmen who have played Tests in New Zealand before. Having faced down Tim Southee and Trent Boult's new-ball spells before, Karunaratne knows his team-mates will look to him to set the tone, and provide direction.

"There's a little more responsibility on us now," he said. "The players who have batted here before - myself, Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal - will have to take that on. We don't have greats in the team anymore, so it's up to us. And there are also some very new players, who we have to motivate. We've got to pass on what we know. There are two potential opening partners for me on tour, and I've told them that it's not as easy to bat here as in Sri Lanka - every ball can pose a threat."

Karunaratne was once a talented dasher, regularly moving into the 20s and 30s with a spate of boundaries, before giving up his wicket playing one stroke too many. He has only recently developed the Test-match temperament to go with his skill - his 152 at Hagley Oval's Boxing Day Test, having been the first of his three important Test hundreds in the past year.

"The last New Zealand tour was all new, but now I have a little experience here," he said. "I've got some idea of how to play on green tops, and what the bowlers will try to do. Just because I scored last time, that's not a guarantee that I will do well, but I've been working hard on leaving the ball and playing close to the body. The first 15 overs are always going to be tough, but after that you can look to build your innings.

"I've learned that the later you play the ball here, the more successful you can be. The ball moves only a little bit - not a huge amount. Playing the ball under the eyes and close to the body is key, and you also have to score maximum runs from the wider balls. You have to get big value out of the bowlers' mistakes as well. If you don't do that you can get stuck, so it's a balance."

Karunaratne is realistic about his technique, however. A bottom-hand dominant batsman when he entered the team, Karunaratne has opened up new scoring areas over the past year, but admits he might have to pare his game back given the conditions and bowling in New Zealand.

"Last year when I was here, I knew I was very strong on the leg side, so I waited for balls on the legs. Now, I've got a bit more confidence to play on the off side, but also with that, there is the fear that you can make a mistake playing those shots. Boult especially will try and get me out behind the wicket on the off side - that's where he bowls. In the nets I've tried to go for shots on the offside, but to be honest, I did miss a few there as well. I've got to keep all that in mind and try to play straight. I've targeted just surviving in that first 15 overs. After that it gets easier."

On form Karunaratne appears Sri Lanka's best batsman. He hit 180 against West Indies in the most recent series, and was the pick of Sri Lanka's batsmen in the tour-match in Queenstown, where he hit the top score of 93. He ranks Southee and Boult as the "top new-ball bowlers in the world", but feels he is ready to take guard against them again.

"We've been playing a lot in home conditions this year, so it can be a bit of a shock to the body when you come here and it's cold," he said. "When you spend some time at the wicket though, you start to feel that you can do well in these conditions, and that you can score runs. What I tried in the practice match was to stay in the middle to get that feeling. That really helped."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rifath on December 10, 2015, 22:54 GMT

    Karunarathne have to learn to score in offside before start relishing anything. Long way ahead for him to even come closer to Mahela or Sanga. I really feel that he is not good enough. I think he is only one dimentional and just block, block and block.

  • Cricinfouser on December 10, 2015, 10:21 GMT

    Looking at all the UT posts i decided to check his total career stats in tests ( not ODI's mind you as this is a test series ) They arent as great as commentors seem to make out.He like kusal perera edge off in seaming conditions.

  • subhasish on December 9, 2015, 12:58 GMT

    Dhimuth karunaratne score brilliant 100 last time Sri Lanka tour new Zealand he knows new Zealand conditions also so he can help Angelo Mathews but biggest problem for sri Lanka lacks quality fast bowlers new Zealand pitches always helps fast bowlers so Sri Lanka struggles to find good fast bowler for long time now so if they want to win in overseas they need good fast bowlers

  • yasiru on December 9, 2015, 6:23 GMT

    @Katch47 ,I heard the same comments about Sanga & Mahela long time ago

  • Nishantha on December 9, 2015, 5:25 GMT

    Everybody saying SL is having an inexperience side, but remember selectors want it this way, they would have let PJ to play for couple of years. They just dropped him after poor tour of NZ forgetting how many matches he had saved with putting up huge partnerships with the genuine batsmen remained at the other end. isn't it what we are missing, nobody to bat with Mathews when we need that big partnership.Nobody considered how rarely he played international cricket but he has always managed score that all important runs whenever needed.(He played brilliantly in ENG and named player of the series for SL and handled Ajmal wherever he played) We have to move on but his experience in batting in seaming conditions would have been a great advantage.

  • Rohantha on December 9, 2015, 4:17 GMT

    Out of Kaushal, Kusal Mendis, Jayasundara and Kithuruwan, only 3 will play. On experience Kaushal should play, but the thing is he is landing in NZ only tonight. Kusal Mendis may be out of his depth, but he is the selectors' pet project so he may play. Jaysundara had a good outing in the warm up and hence stands a very good chance of playing. Kithuruwan's Test record is not great so his chances are 50:50. Anyway, if Kaushal plays I feel that he should come lower down the order.

  •   Piwithuru Sannasgala on December 9, 2015, 3:47 GMT

    No experienced players among top-order, to mentor young ones/build partnerships. The MISSING LINK in the side, experienced enough to stem the top-order is OBVIOUS according to long term international career experience & recent productivity records.

    This fact s undeniably illustrated in UT's international career stats, especially OUTSIDE subcontinent: 51 ODIs- 1,631 r @ 35.5 Av. This link is sadly invisible to SL selectors.

    As the answer to the Severe Dearth of Experience & Inconsistent Productivity of many regulars that sank SL, they considered Infants,Toddlers & even failed Oldies (like 35y Muba who was granted 3 consecutive Test in 2015, despite failing with 136 r @ 21 Av, from 8 ings).

    Strangely, the MOST experienced international batter (30y Tharanga) in SL resource pool was the LEAST exposed during 2015 (2 random Tests) & Past 2 yrs (5 random ODis & 4 Tests) since July 2013. This guy was the MOST consistent, 400r @ 40 Av from 5 Tests randomly given & just failed in 6th.!

  • Ramith on December 9, 2015, 3:20 GMT

    My test team: 1.Karunarathna 2.Jayasundara 3.Mendis 4.Kithuruwan 5.Mathews(c) 6.Milinda 7.Chandimal(WK) 8.herath 9.Lakmal 10.Chameera 11.Pradeep

    My ODI team: 1.Dilshan 2.Dhanushka 3. Thirimanne 4.Chandimal(wk) 5.Kapugedara 65.Mathews(c) 7.Milinda 8.Sachithra 9.Malinga 10.Chameera 11.Lakmal

    My T20 team: 1.Dilshan 2.Dhanushka 3. Shehan 4.Chandimal(wk) 5.Kithuruwan 6.Mathews(c) 7.Milinda 8.Kulasekara 9.sachithra 10.Malinga 11.Chameera

  • Tharindu on December 9, 2015, 2:09 GMT

    My test team: 1.Karunarathna 2.Kasushal 3.Jayasundara 4.Kithuruwan 5.Mathews(c) 6.Milinda 7.Chandimal(WK) 8.herath 9.Lakmal 10.Chameera 11.Pradeep

    My ODI team: 1.Dilshan 2.Thirimanna 3.Chandimal(wk) 4.Kapugedara 5.Mathews(c) 6.Milinda 7.Dhanushka 8.Sachithra 9.Malinga 10.Chameera 11.Lakmal

    My T20 team: 1.Dilshan 2.Shehan 3.Chandimal(wk) 4.Kithuruwan 5.Mathews(c) 6.Milinda 7.Thisara 8.Kulasekara 9.sachithra 10.Malinga 11.Chameera

  •   Piwithuru Sannasgala on December 8, 2015, 21:42 GMT

    Exit of consistent failures like Kusal or Kitruwan makes no difference! Trying to survive in the deep end of international scene, with a bunch included some miserably inconsistent top-order, hadn't even scored 1,500 international runs... to count on experience, is a MEGA JOKE. How can they build partnerships or guide/mentor the unripened toddlers (even in substandard domestic scene) who are unable to figure out where north/south is?

    Do we have any experienced guy in the squad with 5,000+ international runs in any format or scored over 1,500+ r outside sub-continent? Only Mathews had scored 1,700 r outside subcontinent & got 3,900 in both Test & Odi formats. Others like Dimuth & Silva don't even have 1,500 r in any format. Chandi has 2300 in Test & 1600 in odis.

    SL Selectors LOGIC:

    K. Mendis -11 FC mchs - 500 @ 30 Av was PREFERRED over WU Tharanga - 119 FC mchs -7351 @ 39 Av/ 21 Tests - 1,117 @ 30.2 Av/ 180 ODIs - 5,407 @ 33.2 Av/ OUTSIDE subcontinent 51 ODIs - 1,631 @ 35.5 Av

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