Sri Lanka's next big thing

Dinesh Chandimal has travelled from the wrecks of the tsunami to being the torch bearer of Sri Lankan cricket's future.

Dinesh Chandimal in action at the CB Series in Australia. (Reuters)

Sport sometimes puts life in perspective. Stories of despair, poverty, growing up amidst the rubbles caused by massive human tragedies — surroundings that make most people resign to that fate, blaming destiny for taking away whatever little they had. Yet, a tiny few emerge from these surroundings, willing to undertake a journey with a drive unmatched and unparalleled. Very few succeed, though it must be said and the ones who do, ensure that they value it a lot more than those, who might take it as a given and for granted. This, by the way, is young Dinesh Chandimal’s life story, far from an urban fairytale. In fact, it is one which lends itself seamlessly to the grand Sri Lankan narrative — the very indomitable spirit of community and resilience Kumar Sangakkara alluded to in his MCC Spirit of Cricket speech.

Chandimal can be called Sri Lanka’s first post-tsunami cricketer, mainly for the trauma he underwent in his early cricketing years and start everything from scratch. He belongs to a humble, less than privileged background from Ambalangoda, one of the little coastal towns in southern Sri Lanka that the dreaded tsunami washed away seven years ago. His family lost just about everything they had — the house, materials; his father, a shopkeeper, lost his livelihood. His mother didn’t have a job and with absolutely nothing to sustain themselves with, Chandimal’s cricketing ability — the one thing he was bloody good at — came to the fore. With the help of a few foreign charities which came forward to provide financial assistance through sponsorships, he undertook this great little journey to the top.

At the age of 13, Chandimal joined the Dharmasoka College in Ambalangoda. His first coaches Asoka Kumara and Viraj Chaminda de Silva spotted his prodigious talent and brought him up through various age-group ranks. Consistent performances for the Under-13 ‘B’ team got him promoted to the U-13 ‘A’ side next season, and since then Chandimal has never looked back. Starting off his cricketing career as an off-break bowler, he faced the ignominy of being called for chucking in practice matches for the school.

When he turned 15, Chandimal took up wicketkeeping, a skill which his coach says he spotted at the beach of all places. “I saw him once or twice at the beach, just casually where he used to play some cricket in the evenings, saw his feet movement behind the stumps and thought he could make a good wicketkeeper,” he says.

In 2006, during a televised “Big Match” clash between two fierce rival colleges in Ambalangoda - Dharmasoka and Devananda, Chandimal showed his potential with the bat, scoring 23 and 32 with effusive strokeplay. That is when a move to Ananda College, Colombo, and a shift to the top-order came calling. Two rich, run-filled seasons at schoolboy level followed, a national U-19 call-up for the World Cup and thanks to an invitation by Kumar Sangakkara, Chandimal made the cut for the famous Nondescripts Cricket Club, where he started featuring at the first-class level.


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