Until South Africa finally located their batting backbone in the last innings of the series, Sri Lanka opener Dimuth Karunaratne had outscored their entire team in the series. Karunaratne’s aggregate of 356 runs at an average of 118.66 and a strike rate in the mid-sixties is staggering enough in a bowling-dominated series. But, that he was so prolific – passing 50 in each of his innings – after having missed the last series in the West Indies due to a hand injury, is especially impressive.
Having now hit hundreds against Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and South Africa since the start of 2017, Karunaratne has his sights set on a career goal that only the very good Test batsmen achieve. He is increasingly thought of as a reliable run-scorer in this Sri Lanka team, and has claimed a top-ten place in the ICC’s Test batting rankings for the first time.
“My personal goal that I would be happy with is to get to 20 to 25 Test hundreds, and hopefully one day I will get there,” he said. “I want to be a match-winning performer and give my best. When I do that rankings will automatically come.”
Karunaratne currently has eight tons. He has become a specialist on difficult pitches – especially those that take substantial turn, as his 158 not out in Galle in the first Test suggested. Karunaratne totaled 218 runs in a match where no other batsmen hit a fifty.
Karunaratne has spoken of the positive approach he has against spin, but he also revealed that he had been working on specific strokes with coaches in the past few months. “I had a few chats with my school coach recently, and Hashan Tillakaratne has been a great help, along with batting coach Thilan Samaraweera,” he said. “With Hashan, I worked on stuff like the sweep and reverse sweep. Those are must-have shots when fielders are close in. When you play the sweep or reverse sweep, the field spreads.”
Although breaking his hand in domestic cricket in May forced him to miss the series in West Indies in June, Karunaratne did play some cricket – the selectors sending him to Bangladesh with the Sri Lanka A team for two unofficial Tests. It was in Bangladesh, Karunaratne said, that this current run of form began.
“Actually, when the West Indies Tests started, I was fit. But I didn’t have any match practice behind me. So the selectors told me to be fit for South Africa series and wanted me to play Bangaldesh games. That was a good call, because even when I started playing in that series, I wasn’t too confident in my body. I was fearful that the hand might break again. But once I spent a couple of hours at the crease, I started to feel like it was ok, and I sort of slipped into my natural game.”
The pity for Karunaratne is that although he is in excellent touch, there are no matches for him to play in the coming months. Sri Lanka’s next Test is not until November, and there are no domestic matches scheduled in the interim. He is now resigned to doing as much work in the nets as possible in the nets, before England arrive for a three-Test series.
“That’s the biggest challenge for someone who is a Test specialist – you have to go months without a game. This time, since the Bangladesh A matches were there, I could get back to form. Breaks are good, but I need to be at the top of my game. To get back to being that settled at the crease and to keep that intensity is not easy. But I have done that thorughout my career. If there are any domestic matches – any kinds of matches – before the next Test, I will definitely play them.”