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Dimuth Karunaratne rues spate of Sri Lanka injuries in series that got away

Captain admits loss of several first-choice players contributed to team's negative mindset

Dimuth Karunaratne brought up his tenth Test century on the third morning  •  AFP via Getty Images

Dimuth Karunaratne brought up his tenth Test century on the third morning  •  AFP via Getty Images

Sri Lanka lost 2-0, going down by an innings in the first match, and ten wickets in the second, but captain Dimuth Karunaratne is not about to beat himself or his team up.
Partly this is because Sri Lanka have felt the injuries that felled around a third of their touring squad - mostly first-choice players - were somewhat out of their control. They were unable to prepare for this tour as they normally might, thanks partly to the Lanka Premier League, which had to be pushed into December due to Covid-19, and they also could not have a practice match before the Tests. None of Sri Lanka's players had played long-form cricket since July.
"A lot of players got injured, and I think that was the biggest thing we missed," Karunaratne said after his team lost at The Wanderers. "When we were playing without those injuries in the first Test, we were in the match and could potentially have won it. We got a good start, which is a difficult thing to achieve, and then we lost our bowlers. When you lose six or seven players, you do go into a negative mindset and that's difficult. On these tracks it's a huge challenge."
Perhaps because Sri Lanka have another Test series looming in less than two weeks (at home, against England), Karunaratne also chose to dwell on the happier take-aways.
"As a captain I'm really worried about the result. But at least we have some young talents we can use in the future. And there are a few positives from the series. Kusal Perera is in form. Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando and Wanindu Hasaranga also did well.
"We did quite a few positive things, like score the most runs a Sri Lanka team has ever scored in South Africa [their first-innings total of 396 at Centurion], and also score more runs than any previous Sri Lanka teams at The Wanderers [their second-innings total of 211]. In patches we played well, but we weren't able to sustain that, partly because of the injuries."
On a personal note, Karunaratne had hit Sri Lanka's only hundred of the tour in the second innings at The Wanderers, and his 103 off 128 balls was also Sri Lanka's first triple-figure score at this notoriously difficult venue for South Asian batsmen. Before the match, he had averaged a little over 20 in the country, across 12 innings, so the hundred meant more than most.
"Of course there's a sadness at the hundred not having taken us to a win. But playing for the first time after nine months, and batting with an injured finger, scoring some runs was a huge confidence boost for me.
"I had missed out on getting starts on this tour. Previously when I was in South Africa that's the one thing I had got - 20s or 30s - but I hadn't been able to convert. I was also really nervous as I hadn't played in a long time. It's tough on these pitches for anybody. I looked at what my shortcomings were, and tried to fix them.
"In the first 15 overs, I didn't have any big plans. I just wanted to leave the ball well and play positively. Once I got set I realised the way to play on these tracks is to be positive. On a pitch like this a good ball can come at any time. I targeted certain bowlers, and respected the ones I found difficult. I was really determined to score a hundred in this innings."

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