Tuesday, 31 December 2013 00:27
Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne have been given long rope by Sri Lanka’s selectors, and it’s high time they justified their continued selection
ESPNCricinfo: Just as he did with the bat 17 years ago, Sanath Jayasuriya has blazed a trail in his 11 months as chief selector. Less than two weeks into his tenure, Jayasuriya’s panel had appointed Sri Lanka’s youngest Test captain, and placed a 23-year-old at the helm of the Twenty20 side. Sri Lanka have also batted to an unprecedented depth under his watch, and the joke among fans is that pioneer Jayasuriya has brought a minister’s son to the national side for the first time. In Jayasuriya’s defence, Ramith Rambukwella has largely justified his selection, on the field.
Jayasuriya’s boldest policy, however, has not been the selection for which he received the most global attention. Since the team’s last Test in March, Jayasuriya has not budged on his support for two young middle-order batsmen, who have rarely played the innings Jayasuriya has been adamant they are capable of.
In 23 innings since Sri Lanka’s last Test match Dinesh Chandimal hit one fifty. In 19 knocks in the same time period, Lahiru Thirimanne hit two. Occasionally they have mustered valuable boundaries as they arrive towards the end of an innings, but more often, they have been passengers in the national side. It is just as well that the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara have become more adept with the bat in the past year, as the lower order has been called upon for cover.
Almost every time Jayasuriya has faced the media in the past six months, he has been grilled on the merits of his unflappable stance on the pair. Notions of talent and innate ability have been invoked in his responses but mostly, he has asked for patience. “Young players need time to settle and to start performing,” he has said. A late bloomer himself, Jayasuriya knows plenty about persevering until the chasm between domestic dominance and international success has been bridged. When he was first trialled as an opener in 1993, Jayasuriya averaged less than 15 and could not provide the starts his team expected of him. Yet three years later he would redefine his role, and become one of the most feared batsmen of the decade.
Chandimal and Thirimanne do not have to achieve anything so dramatic, but the time draws near when they too must make good their talent. Although neither batsman possesses the aggressive dynamic that is required of a limited-overs finisher, they cannot claim to have made the best of their opportunities.
Before the tour of the UAE, Chandimal’s batting had appeared to be in regression. He had once been spirited and carefree, but this year, his trips to the crease have been fraught with over caution – almost paralysis. Balls he might have once attacked were suddenly defended reverently. Sometimes his inaction would worsen the team situation to the extent that either he or his partner would perish hitting out at deliveries that did not deserve such treatment. Thirimanne had been better in comparison, but limited affinity for aggression brought about ungainly dismissals.
Finally, now, the pair arrive on a stage in which they can have few excuses. Their approach suits Tests better than any other format, and for the first time against a top-eight nation, they will have a full series in which to proclaim the gains they have made in their cricket since being marked out as key prospects.
Injury kept Thirimanne out of the ODI series, but already Chandimal has been promising. He had made three starts in the first three one-dayers, but in a game-clinching hand on Friday, Chandimal built an innings on his own terms. He also coaxed the best batting out of a tailender, which he has done before in Tests despite his inexperience.
Although his ODI average has dropped by about 10 in the last 18 months, Chandimal may be heartened by his Test record. He still averages 58.30 in that format, and his 12 innings have featured away half-centuries against South Africa and Australia, as well as a hundred against Bangladesh in a pivotal period of play. His ascension to vice-captain in ODIs this year has made his failures the most conspicuous in the team, and his returns against a good Test attack over the next three weeks have the potential to define his career or to scuttle it.
Less has been expected of Thirimanne, but he has already been touted by team-mates as Kumar Sangakkara’s future replacement at No. 3, and only consistent scores will affirm those plans. Thirimanne perhaps has the harder task, having had little time at the crease in the past month, but if he wishes to protect his place against challenges from the likes of Ashan Priyanjan, he cannot allow rust to slow him against Pakistan.
In a year of attempted regeneration, Chandimal and Thirimanne have been Sri Lanka’s biggest investments. If dividends do not soon arrive, even Jayasuriya will have his resolve tested.