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Sri Lanka's batting conundrum

Sri Lanka's current batsmen in Tests since January 2011, June 9, 2016 ESPNcricinfo Ltd

All stats exclude the ongoing Lord's Test between England and Sri Lanka.

With the exits of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka's batting line-up clearly isn't as formidable as it once used to be. Angelo Mathews has developed into a top-notch batsman in the last four years, but the others that Sri Lanka's selectors have shown faith in have shown mixed results so far.

Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Lahiru Thirimanne: these four batsmen have featured in Sri Lanka's top six in the first two Tests against England, and have also been in the Test mix for around four years. All have played between 25 and 27 Tests, are between 26 and 30 years old, and have been given a fair number of opportunities to prove that they are the real deal. It would be fair to say that, apart from Chandimal, the others haven't made the best use of those opportunities. Chandimal averages a healthy 45.18 - and his century in Chester-le-Street last week was his first outside Asia - but the other three average less than 35.

The biggest disappointment so far has been Thirimanne. Among these four, Thirimanne was the first to make his Test debut, and was highly regarded in Sri Lankan circles for his technique and unflappable temperament. A sparkling 91 in his first Test innings in Australia raised expectations further, but he has passed that score only once in his next 34 Test innings, and even that was against Bangladesh. After 49 innings, he averages only 24.16, with sub-25 dismissals in each of his last eight innings. Among 82 top-order batsmen who have batted 25 or more times in Tests since June 2011, Thirimanne's average is the poorest. He is also one of only four batsmen with a strike rate of less than 40 - the others are Nick Compton, Tharanga Paranavitana, and Faf du Plessis.

Silva, like Thirimanne, has shown that he prefers to bat the old-fashioned, defensive way, but he has shown better temperament and shot-selection. After 18 Tests his career average was 38.06 - with 10 fifty-plus scores in 33 innings - but his numbers have dipped due to poor series against India and West Indies, in which he managed 136 runs from nine innings. That, and a fairly ordinary four innings in England, has brought his career average down to 31.29, but he remains a batsman who looks the part at the top of the order, and his ability to bat long periods is an asset.

His opening partner, Karunaratne, has a slightly better average but he gets his runs far quicker, scoring at a strike rate of almost 50, compared to Silva's 40.58. That means Silva bats longer per dismissal - facing 77 balls to Karunaratne's 67 - but Karunaratne has shown the ability to score bigger hundreds, with two 150-plus scores compared to none by Silva. Even so, an average of 22.07 from 14 Test innings in Australia and England, and a career average of 33.28, are numbers which could do with some improvement.

And that brings us to Dinesh Chandimal, who seems to be finally delivering with the consistency that was elusive in the early part of his career. In his last nine Tests, Chandimal has struck three hundreds from 17 innings, and averages 51.31. That includes an incredible unbeaten 162 against India in Galle, which led Sri Lanka to a stunning come-from-behind win. He made another second-innings hundred in Chester-le-Street, which means three of his six centuries have come in the second innings.

Chandimal is one of four batsmen to pass 50 in both innings of his debut Test since January 2011, and in the last year, he is finally justifying that early hype. While it's true that his numbers are boosted by an average of 128.33 against Bangladesh - excluding those Tests his career average drops to 39.09 - clearly his stats are moving in the right direction.

These are still relatively early days in the careers of these four batsmen, but one aspect that stands out for three of them is their relative lack of success at home. Chandimal has done well, averaging 49.25, but Karunarate, Silva and Thirimanne all average below 37. A lot of Sri Lankan batsmen have struggled to score overseas runs in the past too, but in home conditions they are usually prolific: Mahela Jayawardene averaged 59.72 in home Tests against an overseas average of 39.71. The new crop of Sri Lankan batsmen need to capitalise on the opportunities of playing at home, and do much better in familiar conditions. They could take some advice from Mathews, who averages 61.32 in home Tests since the start of 2011.

Among these four batsmen, Thirimanne made his debut the earliest, in June 2011. Silva followed in October that year, Chandimal in December, and Karunaratne in November 2012. In these five years from June 2011, several batsmen made their Test debuts, but a few have settled into the format and excelled. Joe Root and David Warner have stood out with 50-plus averages, while Chandimal slots in with the next lot - Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Faf du Plessis. The challenge for the other three Sri Lankans will be to lift their games to those levels. Given the long periods that Sri Lankan cricket has invested in them, it is now payback time.