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Match Analysis

Struggle trumps grace in Dinesh Chandimal's game-changing century

Fidel Fernando walks you through the woods to showcase a hundred that stood out because of tribulations

Sometimes you bat pretty much all day, and people will still say you struggled.
An early trigger warning here. If you're a Dinesh Chandimal fan, you might not like the next few paragraphs. But stay with it, we will make it worth your time.
Until he got past about 70, roughly 140 balls into his innings, it did not seem like Chandimal was playing well. He was scoreless for six balls, until he decided he had had enough. Running down the track to Nathan Lyon, driving against the turn past cover - a shot he nailed, but not the shot of a batter with supreme confidence in his ability.
Next ball, he shuffles down again, and throws every molecule in his body into a big lofted drive, which carries all the way over the long-on boundary, and gets him six.
Eight balls into his innings, he's made 10. It looks pretty good on the scorecard. If all you watched were the boundaries, you'd think he was crushing it. But then you'd miss out on the hard bits, the struggle… (The best bits.)
Next over, Chandimal is running down the track at Lyon again. But this is a world-class, top-ten-wicket-takers-of-all-time operator. The offspinner slows the ball down, drags the length back, spins it big between Chandimal's bat and pad, and should have him stumped. Alas, wicketkeeper Alex Carey misses the ball, so Chandimal survives.
Survives, not to suddenly find fluency, not to make Australia punish Australia for their mistakes like a 1950s school headmaster. The man survives just to continue struggling. Several overs later, he pads it to a close catcher, and Australia appeal, then burn a review.
Chandimal's doing ok. Fine, really… A bit slow, but fine. Uhh, okay, maybe not. Mitchell Starc is really roughing him up with the short ball. On 30, Starc goes full, then bounces him. Chandimal waves his bat at it. Australia appeal voraciously. Starc is sure there was a noise. Probably because there was. But they have burned their reviews, and Chandimal scratches out a guard again.
He's not a walker, Chandimal. He'll do anything to stick around. Anything to stay with the struggle.
There are more escapes: An inside edge off Cameron Green that crashes into the pads. A potential bat-pad catch against Lyon that evades short leg by a few inches. He's batted well over 100 balls by this stage, but doesn't look like he's got his eye in.
At the other end, Kamindu Mendis, a debutant, is batting serenely. Just as Chandimal had done on debut at Durban, when he had made twin fifties. Beginners' luck. It probably seems that way from Chandimal's perspective. Unlike Mendis though, Chandimal's already won Tests for Sri Lanka. Lest we forget, his most spectacular Test innings came at this venue.
But there he is, leaping out uncertainly, looking stiff as he goes back to the spinners, still playing and missing the quicks, seeming like he's in the trenches against every bowler Australia throw at him, even the part-timers like Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head.
But then he got past 70, and the whole thing became less fun. Perhaps he had finally got his eye in. Some timing had entered his game. He was still throwing his hands at balls, because that is what Chandimal does, but he was connecting with them now. The balls that beat him were genuinely deliveries that were starting to burst off the surface, which almost every batter on the planet would have missed. The others, though, he was middling. The every-molecule shots are starting to look like they are just a part of the way Chandimal plays cricket, rather than wild gambles.
He gets to a 13th Test hundred, leads Sri Lanka to a position of strength by stumps, lives to fight another day etc etc… but this is the boring stuff. The good bits were when he struggled. When he clung to his wicket like a lifesaver in stormy seas. When he had to kick away the sharks that took chunks out of his feet… when he put his team in the rough vicinity of a winning position, even if he didn't look particularly good doing it.

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