Match Analysis

Mature Chandimal (finally) lives up to his promise

Fidel Fernando talks Chandimal's purple patch showcasing his boyish exuberance and newfound doggedness

Dinesh Chandimal's 86* helped take Sri Lanka's lead past 300  •  AFP/Getty Images

Dinesh Chandimal's 86* helped take Sri Lanka's lead past 300  •  AFP/Getty Images

It's all there, right now. The Dinesh Chandimal that was promised.
Not merely the Chandimal of the manic 162*, sweeping and reverse-slapping Sri Lanka out of a third-innings hole, turning an unturnable match against India in 2015. Not just the slow-burn Chandimal - the one who hit 155 off 372 in Abu Dhabi once, or the 132 off 356 in Colombo. Not only the Chandimal of the momentum-shifting fifties in which the onus falls on someone else to finish the job.
In the past eight weeks he's gone big with scores like 206*, 76, 124, 69. At 32 years of age, 10-and-a-half years after he made his Test debut, he has entered maybe his deepest purple stretch. He's had one 1000-run year, and hit hundreds against every opposition but New Zealand and South Africa. But look at that innings list. He's never quite strung scores together like this.
Watching him right now is high drama, because in his best innings are all his best innings. He is suddenly a mixture of that boyish exuberance that once made Sri Lanka fans giddy, with the added doggedness that comes with having been in some wars (and man, has this guy had some). Exactly a week ago, he was clearing the front leg, throwing every molecule of every cell into a straight slog off Mitchell Starc, launching him over the sightscreen, over the fence, and on to the road, where it briefly spooked some passersby.
In that innings he'd struck five sixes, and made 64 utterly glorious runs in the company of Nos. 9, 10, and 11. But the first 70 runs of his 206 had been rough. He'd gritted and chanced his way through it, just intensely attached to the idea of being at the crease. When he'd nicked one on 30, he hung around, nonchalant. Perhaps he thinks he's not got as much luck in his cricket life as he deserves. There's a shred of truth there.
But that was last Monday at Galle. Today, there was no struggle. Just a batter playing at near his natural ceiling, which for Chandimal, is higher than most. Defensive as he gets himself into the innings, but not laboriously slow.
Inspired by more adventurous team-mates like Dhananjaya de Silva to try a few big shots himself, but secure enough to not go overboard. The slog sweeps got going first - a couple of sixes off Mohammad Nawaz in quick succession. Then, a comfortable accumulation period, as he let Niroshan Dickwella and Ramesh Mendis attack around him.
But whatever shot he was playing, whatever mood that struck, Chandimal was on top of it, allied by the kind of form in which there only seems to be a middle of his bat. For someone with this lavish backswing, and the tendency to bash the ball, helmet wobbling like a school cricketer who's either seen a full toss or a girl he wants to impress, the ball disappearing off his bat until it reappears beyond the boundary is a signal that he's seeing it like a small planet.
In between the big shots, the deadbatting Chandimal, leaving judiciously, playing late, committing to a line and letting the turning ball spin past his edge. This best version of Chandimal never gets bogged down, though. He sweeps before the bowler can get him in trouble. And because of how well he's hitting it, he hits it.
There's a lot of fraught history with Chandimal. The captaincies, of the T20 and Test teams, that ended poorly. The strained relationships with some coaches; the over-close relationships with others. And, you sense, a constant need to be liked.
But he's 32 now, and in this team, kind of an elder statesman. He's never batted better than he is right now. And he has entered the years in which the best become truly exceptional. Whether he uses this season as a springboard to become the batter many thought he would be, who knows? The one thing you will learn from Chandimal's career is that expectations don't always pan out.
All we know is that right now, he bats as if the best of him has been condensed, the worst of him has been pruned, and that there is no Sri Lanka batter suited to every match situation like he's suited to it.

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