Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 1st day January 16, 2014

Karunaratne hopes to build on starts

Just eight Tests old, Dimuth Karunaratne has the skills to become a fine international opener. With more consistency and a better understanding of his own game, he may well be the answer to Sri Lanka's top order as they continue replacing the old guard

When Dimuth Karunaratne fell to Abdur Rehman in the first over after lunch, he pondered his dismissal for a moment. There was nothing to challenge, for he had clearly hit the ball to slip. But he knew that once again, he had earned a start, seen through the nerves, and then fallen away when a substantial score called. The promise of his batting is clear every time he comes to the crease, but he is yet to produce a knock worthy of his ability, nor one that would put his place in the side truly beyond question.

Karunaratne has played 17 Test innings, but only in five of those occasions has he faced fewer than 25 balls. In all but six innings, he has crossed 15. He has appeared insecure outside off stump on certain occasions, particularly when the new ball seams across him, but only few batsmen can say they did not consistently flirt with danger early in their careers. Even when he has struggled, however, he is swift and confident when he does detect a ball in his range - a symptom of the strong, uncluttered mind that breeds resilient openers.

The few times he has breached 20 so effortlessly, it seemed as if he was heading towards a defining innings. His 34 in Sharjah was not among his most convincing innings, but even there, a whipped boundary through midwicket off Saeed Ajmal, and a square drive off Mohammad Talha inspired some confidence. Which is why when he left the field at lunch, the most arduous examinations had seemed to be behind him.

"I'm disappointed that I've not been able to convert my 30s into big scores," Karunaratne said. "No one wants to get out after getting a start, but sometimes I have bad luck. But I do try to convert my 30s into big innings, because I feel like if I get a big one, I will have the confidence to keep doing that."

During Sri Lanka's tour of Australia, Karunaratne consistently got very good balls in the first 15 overs, vindicating his comment about bad fortune. Even in this series, he has faced two fine deliveries from Junaid Khan. But the larger truth of his failures so far has been that he is the architect of his own downfall. Many times, he is a victim of ambition - playing the booming drive or rasping cut at one too many deliveries. His lowest score in this series has been 24, but in five innings, he only has one fifty - which came in a chase of 137.

Yet, aggression is also his strength. He has amassed mammoth scores for the A team, largely by taking risks and earning momentum. More encouragingly, he has been just as good away as he has been at home, as Karunaratne was the top-scorer in the last two away tours for the A team, to South Africa in 2012, and the Caribbean last year.

In Sharjah, he fell attempting to hit a full and wide delivery, and while it is easy to suggest he should have left that ball alone, it would have been just as simple to brand the delivery a poor one if Karunaratne had connected as he wished. The same could be said about the short and wide delivery to which he perished in the first innings in Abu Dhabi.

Karunaratne feels he must play a little more conservatively to find his feet in Tests, but more incisive judgement and a better understanding of his own game would also serve him well. Both of those qualities are largely borne from experience, which is why the selectors must consider him an ongoing investment. After all, there is no doubt he has earned his place.

"The reason I haven't been able to replicate what I've done for the A team is that there's a big difference between the A team level and this one. The best bowlers from each country are here in internationals. Also, when I've played at the top level, I've cut down on my scoring shots and tried to bat for a long time. Usually if I bat through the first hour or first session, I would have hit a fifty - so that's a change at this level. But I feel like if I continue to do what I've been doing, I can turn it into an advantage and succeed."

By a statistical measure, Karunaratne's tour of the UAE has been a moderate success so far. His tally of 190 is the third highest among Sri Lanka's batsmen, even if he has had one more innings than most others.

It is glib to compare him unfavourably alongside the newer Kaushal Silva, because not only is Silva a more seasoned domestic player, his cricket is also characterised by consistency. Karunaratne may suffer more lows in his career, but at his best, he is capable of the ravishing innings that ease the burden on the men batting around him. If Silva, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne are the anchors of Sri Lanka's future top four, the dynamism and stroke range Karunaratne offers might be the key in placing opposition bowlers in discomfort. His strengths are through the leg side, while the others are better off-side players.

For now, Karunaratne appears to have the raw materials to become a fine international opener. He is just lacking the adhesive that might bring his talents all together.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shamalka on January 17, 2014, 9:42 GMT

    Karunaratne atleast shows some signs that he will learn. When will Chandimal learn?

  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2014, 8:10 GMT

    At least he doesn't play stupid shots like Chandimal did in the 1st innings!

  • Rashendra on January 17, 2014, 2:56 GMT

    Well, he needs to work hard if he wants to include in the first XI... Fortunately he has more time , as he is just 24

  • Pasenadee on January 16, 2014, 22:13 GMT

    Karunaratne appears to be cautious with his wicket for the first hour or two, then throws it away. This man is worth the patience as placing a prize on his wicket will sink in soon and he will convert these starts into big scores. He has the technique, he has the patience, and when he manages to gel it with the right level of aggression he is going to be one of the best batsman produced by SL.

  • Uwe on January 16, 2014, 20:32 GMT

    For such matters teams employ coaches. Talent and ambition is there. Fine tuning and art of facing upper echelon bowlers are on the hands of batting coach. But watching players like Chandimal, it looks they have taken dive downwards compare to beginning of intl. career.

  • Janaka on January 16, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    Look at the way someone like Kallis or Clarke handle the new ball. It is just magic to me. That's Dimuth's destination. Go for it, buddy! You can do it!

  • Janaka on January 16, 2014, 20:09 GMT

    Dimuth is my favourite young batsman to be honest. I alwaysp remember his fearless innings against Australia in Australia, while rest were clueless. His aggression is his power, but he needs a control over it. He is in the caliber of Aravinda. May be, if he gets some advice from Aravinda and Sanga can help him a great deal while Atapattu helps him to fine tune his technique. What I feel is he needs to practice on small mistakes he does, not only physically, but also mentally. All the best. Where's the other lad, Kithruwan? He is a great player.

  • Rizwan on January 16, 2014, 19:42 GMT

    Where is Banuka Rajapakshe ? He can score quickly and is a handy bowler as well and if given the opportunity can captain the team

  • Dru on January 16, 2014, 18:15 GMT

    Obviously the guy has talent but talent alone is not going to make you successful in tests. He needs to tightend up his game and put a prize on his wicket and the runs should flow. As an opener the number one task is to keep the new ball at bay which he is capable of but it seems he things the job is done then. He needs to take a step up to succeed at the highest level.

  • Josh on January 16, 2014, 17:28 GMT

    Top batsman with a bright future in test cricket. When Sanga departs Kusul Perera can open and Dimuth should come at three - one down.

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