New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 1st day December 18, 2015

Chandimal's baila sets Sri Lanka's tone

Dinesh Chandimal only made 47, but his approach helped divert the course of the first day's play, and helped bend the New Zealand bowling a little out of shape

Dinesh Chandimal's batting is not as audacious as Aravinda de Silva's or as refined as Mahela Jayawardene's, but he, like them, seems ideally suited to batting at No. 4 © Getty Images

Willow usually emits a crack when it meets leather, but over the years Sri Lanka No. 4s have had the knack of making it sound like music. Aravinda de Silva started the party, playing rollicking innings, with hooks and pulls that thrilled fans like stadium-rock riffs. Sri Lanka were a garage band when he started in the eighties. In 1996, he helped make them global headliners.

Mahela Jayawardene was of a more classical bent; the wristy flicks, liquid drives and late cuts moving his audience, rather than astonishing them. His innings were swirling veena melodies over a rolling tabla pulse. His batting was timeless. On his best days, it was transcendental.

Dinesh Chandimal used to bat down the order on account of keeping wickets, but No. 4 seems just the place for him. He has the gift of music too. Not audacious like de Silva, or as refined as Jayawardene, his work instead is buoyant and joyful. With a technique that could have only been made on the island, Chandimal's batting is like a baila tune.

Watch him as he hits through the covers. The top hand often comes off. His back arches in the follow through. He is the bouncy 6/8 rhythm in a 4/4 top order. Sometimes he looks like getting out every ball. Other days, he looks like he will never settle at the crease. But suddenly, you look up and he's on 30. Blink, and another ball is spirited to the fence.

In Chandimal's approach there is also a looseness - an impulse to ditch the plans and go where the innings takes him. He edged two balls over the slips in the second innings in Dunedin, then began to deliberately hit balls through third man. Of his first fifty runs, 38 came behind square on the off side. It was as if he thought: "Why fight the flow? If third man is where the ball goes, third man is where I will play."

There was a hint of structure to Chandimal's innings in Hamilton, like when he defended most balls on the stumps, but not enough, really, to constitute a plan. After nine balls at the crease, he lined up New Zealand's most economical operator of the series, and larruped him for 16 off-side runs. Kusal Mendis, playing a lively innings himself, had provided the prelude. With Chandimal, the beat and bright keyboard tune came in. Sri Lanka were two down, but Chandimal was scything moving balls over cover. There was bounce and carry on a pitch as green as they come, but he was playing his searing cut. Before lunch, Sri Lanka crossed 100. The third wicket stand moved to 64 from 74 balls by the break.

Coaches have learned, that just like with baila, there is no use in analysing Chandimal. No use in running a microscope over his grip, or his off-kilter pull. They tried to fix him through 2013 and 2014, and Chandimal too, a little giddy at the extra attention, bought into the newest batting theories out of textbooks.

The result was almost career-ending. Midway through last year, Chandimal was pulled out of a Test tour and banished to the Sri Lanka A team, a junior from his own Colombo club brought in to replace him.

It was only when he returned to his instincts that he reclaimed his homespun havoc. There is no polishing baila. There should only be surrender. The skipped beats are part of its identity. The flaws round out its perfection.

Chandimal was out chasing a full ball for 47, but like the great No. 4s before him, he had helped divert the course of the cricket. He'd helped bend the bowlers a little out of shape. Milinda Siriwardana and Angelo Mathews were cautious to begin with, but began to flow themselves, soon enough. Their 138 together was a record for the fifth wicket against New Zealand. Their big hitting was momentous as well. No two Sri Lanka batsmen had hit three (or more) sixes each in the same innings before.

"You take cues from the top order, so we learned from the guys up the order how to bat on this wicket," Siriwardana later said. "Kusal Mendis and Chandi showed us how to play here. They made it easier for the batsmen coming in lower down the order."

Chandimal didn't transform Sri Lanka's position in this series. At the end of day one, they had done better than expected, but New Zealand are more than capable of running this score down. But his seven fours and strike rate north of eighty did inspire them, however briefly. Like a baila tune, his innings enlivened the day.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Samitha on December 19, 2015, 12:12 GMT

    In Gladiator (2000) movie there is a saying "If you win the crowd. You will win your freedom ". That's what Chandimal did.... According to me he has the character of Dilshan . Always underestimated but when deliver , deliver big ..... I saw him first at a under 19 six a side tournament. That day i thought "Oh man , This kid has some potential" .....As a person spent so much time on commenting for chandimal in cricinfo i'm so happy now. I think Sri lanka will allow him to sing his baila with his own tune. And give some time to re tune when ever he is not in touch. By the way great article writing here by Andrew.

  • Yohaan on December 18, 2015, 23:09 GMT

    @Lakpj : Agree... SL cricket career for a progressive blossom is not rosy, unless having blessed sprinkles. Hit a spot in the XI is a two way path for players. Smoothly carpted free-way is exclusively reserved for Royal-family duck producers... & the neck-breaking endurance track, full of pits, nets & bricks is for highly skilled run-makers, voyaging for SL. The intensity & frequency of stumbling blocks increase with the number of acheivements... If you look around, you will see many examples similar to Chandimal :))

  • John on December 18, 2015, 17:39 GMT

    I really like this guy. The Poms won't be sleeping on SL next year and rightly so with him in the mix. I love to see batsmen that refuse to be dominated by a bowling attack (like Warner). Yes it can lead to some cheap dismissals but it can also wrest away the advantage in bowler-friendly conditions when it comes off.

  • Lakpriya on December 18, 2015, 14:46 GMT

    during 2012 Chandimal was batting beautifully that too in some tough conditions in Aus and SA. but for some reason SL changed his position and that ruined his run of play. if not for that he would have been right up their with some of the best young batsmen today. it is hard to believe that even in 2015 WC team he couldn't find a place. finally he is proving his capabilities.

  • Roshan on December 18, 2015, 10:54 GMT

    I'm glad to see this lad playing well now, and establishing himself as the rightful successor to Mahela. He's been a fantastic prospect for a while and I couldn't understand why Sri Lanka didn't put more faith in him and stick him at No. 5 instead of playing people like Jeevan Mendis. Chandimal could become one of the world's best batsmen now, which is good to see.

  • Vinod on December 18, 2015, 10:27 GMT

    AFF - so eloquent, apleasure to read your articles, keep em coming;;;

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