Paranavitana solves a top-order problem

Tharanga Paranavitana continued his impressive run this series AFP

Tharanga Paranavitana is not a very remarkable batsman. When Tillakaratne Dilshan cuts and slashes and hooks, Paranavitana quietly blends into the background and picks runs. He doesn't have Kumar Sangakkara's extravagant drives, nor Mahela Jayawardene's silken shots. If you run into him in an elevator, chances are you won't recognise him. He is not a lawyer, nor is he the man with the funky beard and a shot named after him. He is neither the polished batsman from the Colombo school, nor the maverick from outstation.

But the man has done his job in this series. Yes it was a flat track, yes the bowling was largely uninspired, but he finished his second century in two matches. And no Test century is easy - not for openers at least.

Not long ago, Paranavitana was not completing that job. In the 10 Tests before this series, he had crossed 50 four times, but failed to get the centuries that the openers are eventually judged by, when they are all batted and done. Lahiru Thirimanne, part of Test squad, had started breathing down his neck too, with 66 and 102 in the tour game.

Paranavitana's reaction upon reaching both those centuries, more extravagant than anything he did during those innings, are perhaps an indication that he had felt the heat. Both the times he has brought up the century while running towards the players' gallery, and he has continued running towards his mates both the times.

Both the innings were worth celebrating, coming from a player who not long ago threatened to become one of the long list of left-hand Sri Lankan openers who squandered their opportunities after Marvan Atapattu and Sanatha Jayasuriya stopped opening. Avishka Gunawardene, Michael Vandort, Jehan Mubarak, Upul Tharanga, and Malinda Warnapura must have been waiting for him to join the club. The team management, though, saw something extra in Paranavitana and persisted.

The first century has been a big step. Dilshan, his opening partner, sees a more confident man since that effort in Galle. "First hundred is very difficult in Test cricket," says Dilshan who now has a Tharanga to open with in all formats of the game - Upul Tharanga being the other opener in limited-overs games. "After the first hundred, he has got more confident. Today he went after loose balls. I feel he is much more comfortable now."

It was important that Sri Lanka found an opener who could play the Atatpattu to Dilshan's Jayasuriya. This is not to compare Paranavitana with Atapattu, but he has now begun to play a somewhat similar role in the partnership. "The thing is, he is giving me strike most of time, so I can go after loose balls," says Dilshan. "The important thing in the partnership is that I get freedom to go after the early overs. Then both sides are very relaxed, he gets his singles, I attack. We are both very understanding. [Paranavitana's presence is] really helpful for me."

Dilshan is optimistic that Sri Lanka are pretty close to fill the opening void left by Jayasuriya and Atapattu. "Conventional opener. Takes his time earlier, if you give loose balls later, he will attack. He has adjusted to international cricket now. Now he knows how to handle the 70s and 80s. Now he is matured, getting more hundreds for our team. Perfectly good for us as we have found a very good opener."

Apart from the centuries the other yardstick to judge openers is how well they do in conditions alien to them. The SSC, for example, is where Paranavitana has played most of his cricket. Given the current schedules, he might not be tested away from home too soon, but he has perhaps made sure that he will be present for that test when it does arrive.