Karunaratne reveals strategy to tackle spinners

Karunaratne scored 218 runs on a Galle surface in which no other batsman could manage so much as a half-century, and this is not even his most impressive hundred in tough conditions

Dimuth Karunaratne drives with a straight bat, Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 2nd day, July 13, 2018

Dimuth Karunaratne drives with a straight bat  •  AFP

Get on top of the spinners before they get on top of you. So goes Dimuth Karunaratne's mantra, when playing on dusty tracks.
Karunaratne hit 218 runs on his own on a Galle surface in which no other batsman could manage so much as a half-century. This was not even Karunaratne's most impressive hundred in tough conditions - that would be last year's second-innings 141 on an SSC dust-bowl, an innings played against the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin - the two top-ranked bowlers in the world at the time.
"On pitches like this I am always looking for runs and trying to bat positively," Karunaratne said. "Often my strike rate is in the 70s - like it was in this match. That's the biggest thing. When you are playing spin you need to have a defence, but more than that you have to dominate the spinners before they dominate you."
Karunaratne's epic 158 not out in the first innings came off only 222 balls, while his second innings 60 was scored from 80, but in neither of these innings did he rely on boundaries to drive his score forward. Instead, Karunaratne used the crease to create room, or came down the pitch to negate the spinners' turn. He was busy, rather than bruising.
"If you give spinners a chance to dominate you, they will step all over you. To avoid that I use my feet, and I'm trying to create scoring opportunities by doing as much as I can," he said. "What I'm trying to do is make them bowl in areas that are good scoring zones for me. If you move around the crease and take a little risk when scoring those runs, you can get the bowlers to bowl where you want them to."
Karunaratne has had a good 18 months in general, having also hit hundreds against Bangladesh and Pakistan during that time. He hit more than 1000 runs last year, and now averages 42.8 since the start of 2017 - an excellent figure for an opening batsman from Sri Lanka, which has been the toughest country for openers over the past few years. Karunaratne has also developed the knack of going big when he gets to triple figures - half of his eight centuries are scores of over 150.
"When I go to bat, I'm thinking of the first 15 overs, because it's in those 15 overs that an opener has it toughest," he said. "But if you can get through that, then you should know how to carry on. Rather than doing all the hard work and passing the job on to someone else, it's better to build the innings yourself. If an opener that wants to score runs, that's really important.
"I knew in this match that there would be spin after those early overs, because Galle is anyway a spin-friendly track. But I like that challenge, because it tests you. You get better when you face challenges like that. I think I'm applying my skill and doing well on turning tracks."
Karunaratne is far from satisfied with his game, however. With four more home Tests to play this year, and three difficult back-to-back southern hemisphere tours between December and February, he would like to widen his skillset. "The more experience you have, the more you learn how to play in different situations. In New Zealand for example, you have to adjust your backlift and score a lot of runs straight, compared to turning tracks.
"I think I've matured since I first came into the team. But I'm not complete yet. The more I play, the better I will become."

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