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Match Analysis

The Lahiru Thirimanne everyone had hoped for

It is still too soon to say whether this is a true breakthrough, but Sri Lanka will grab it with both hands

Aggressive moments were few and far between from Lahiru Thirimanne, just what Sri Lanka needed  •  AFP

Aggressive moments were few and far between from Lahiru Thirimanne, just what Sri Lanka needed  •  AFP

Earnest, hardworking, measured, organised. Whatever you have thought of Lahiru Thirimanne through the course of an international career that now spans 192 appearances, and stretches over a decade, those virtues have always defined him. Where his once partner-in-crime Dinesh Chandimal has undergone a transformation, going from savage to staid, Thirimanne has been in this one mode. The grim expression. That dour defence. Reserved.
When he went through long, low spells (and some of these spells have been looong and looow), you wondered how someone of such obvious ability and intelligence could be failing to string some sort of decent career together. Because Thirimanne has never seemed the type to squander his gifts, there was more sympathy than frustration through many of these periods. A good score is around the corner. He'll get there. Yes, he nicked off again, but did you see those drives? The guy's got it. Don't worry about him. He'll get it right.
These are also the reasons he kept getting picked by just about every selection committee Sri Lanka has had over the past decade - each fresh set of decision makers deciding that the previous lot had mismanaged him, confident that under their care, Thirimanne would finally prosper. He brought other benefits. Thirimanne caught well close in, has uniformly been described as a positive (if retiring) force within the dressing room, and uncomplainingly batted wherever the team asked him to. Aside from this whole having to score runs thing, he was kind of the perfect player.
Now, aged 32, eight years after he announced himself in Tests with a 91 at the SCG, there are signs, however mild, that Thirimanne's long latent phase is coming to an end. It could still go either way, and this being an exceedingly fragile career, it is wise to remain wary. Still, these are his last five scores: 111, 43, 13, 70 and 76 - an aggregate of 313, average 62.60. Not mindblowing. Only a little better than good. But in this Sri Lanka team? In a side that plummets into a collapse almost by habit? Yeah, they'll take that. They'll take it all week.
In this Test, he has been that long yearned-for Thirimanne, the guy who will resist the big flashy drives against the moving ball early on, who will bed in and see out the tough spells, who will put away the bad balls but only the bad balls, who will dance around the flashier batsmen, always ceding the floor, but sticking around longer than anyone else. The top-order engine room, essentially. Honest, doughty, reliable. The batsman he was destined to be.
The 70 in the first innings was especially impressive for having come in the most difficult conditions this pitch has so far had to offer, while his team nosedived around him. In that knock, he left the moving ball better than his team-mates, he locked away the big shots, and he ground out a half-century almost by pure willpower, never looking pretty or talented, and yet producing runs without which Sri Lanka would be lost. Maybe it's worth mentioning that in that innings, he only played that bent-kneed cover drive - the one shot of his that makes fans swoon - twice, and never hard enough to collect a boundary. (Cover drives, more than any other shot, have a way of inviting comparisons, and this one happened to bring Kumar Sangakkara to mind. It seems almost cruel now.)
Still, however well he had batted in that first innings, he had run out Oshada Fernando during it, but given he has been in a redemptive mood over the past few innings, he redeemed himself - if only partially - on this front too. Their stand of 162 winched Sri Lanka out of a dire first-innings deficit, and into respectability. By day's end there might even have been hope they'd set West Indies a challenging fourth-innings target.
Through the course of this partnership, Thirimanne melded comfortably into the background, defending securely, leaving well again, while Oshada took the risks (Oshada was dropped once at leg slip, and edged another ball past the cordon). He ventured only four boundaries through a 201-ball stay, and it took a genuinely stunning delivery from West Indies' best bowler - Kemar Roach - to remove him. There's no one who could look at this innings and seriously feel Thirimanne underperformed; this was Thirimanne batting at the higher reaches of his ability, in a poor match situation, in still difficult conditions.
Whether he will eventually justify the mountains of faith so many placed in him remains to be seen, but for now, for this Test, maybe this is enough: Lahiru Thirimanne was resolute in defence, judicious in his strokeplay, and helped blunt the opposition attack. Lahiru Thirimanne came good.

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