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.

In his very second first-class game, as part of a representational team put out by Sri Lanka Cricket, against the New Zealanders, he notched up his maiden ton against the likes of Daniel Vettori. And since then, he’s only grown in stature as a top-order batsman. Such was his rapid rise, that a prolific run of scores at the domestic level rewarded him with a national call-up in a largely second-string side for a triangular series in Zimbabwe, also featuring India.

'BEST IN THE WORLD'

Playing just his second international game, Chandimal brought up his first hundred against India, 111 off 118 balls with six fours and five sixes. Unfortunately for Chandimal, a heady mixture of political intervention and selection policy meant that he was overlooked during the build-up to the World Cup, and lost his place to returning seniors and experienced players in Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva. It seemed like the snub from the selectors only made him more determined and his returns in the following season are worth a mention — 1013 runs in 9 first-class matches at an average of 84.41, including a massive 244 for Sri Lanka A against the visiting South Africa A.

Ultimately, these efforts and scores were rewarded, when Chandimal was picked for Sri Lanka’s tour of England during the summer of 2011. Though Chandimal did not feature in the Test matches, he made his mark in the one-day series, with a fantastic 105* at Lord’s guiding Sri Lanka’s run-chase along with Mahela Jayawardene who made 79. This was more like an innings with which Chandimal announced himself at the highest level, walking in at No. 3 after Dilshan departed early, he kept his calm when Mahela was going on the attack at the other end, and then once Mahela was dismissed, began consolidating Sri Lanka’s run-chase. The knock not only ensured Sri Lanka’s victory, but contributed massively to Chandimal being a Sri Lanka one-day regular.

A poor run of form in the first three ODIs of the home series against Australia ensured that Chandimal was dropped for the remainder of the series, and his form only worsened at the UAE, where Sri Lanka played Pakistan. But, with continued faith in his ability, Sri Lanka’s selectors picked Chandimal for the tour of South Africa, where their decision was vindicated. Making his Test debut as a wicketkeeper-batsman at Durban, Chandimal scored two critical fifties in each of the innings, coming lower down the order and helping Sri Lanka maximize their score and win the game. Even in the one-day series that followed, apart from Sri Lanka’s embarrassing 43 all out, Chandimal outperformed his peers, with two fifties in five innings.

Romesh Kaluwitharana, the Sri Lanka A coach and someone who has worked with Chandimal closely says, “Despite his success for Sri Lanka at the highest level, I don’t see any change in him. He’s the same guy who came down from Ambalangoda to play his cricket in Colombo, very simple, humble and grounded. Importantly, he’s a very hardworking cricketer and a great listener to begin with, something that makes it easier for us coaches. Whatever inputs we’ve given him as a coaching staff for the benefit of his game, he’s taken everything on board and the results are there to be seen.”

Kalu adds, “He’s a very solid batsman, has a very sound technique and some good scoring areas. What he needs is a bit of shaping and if he can work harder and improve on specific issues like the short ball, shot selection and playing the ball closer to his body, he’s definitely in line to becoming one of the best batsmen in the world.”

Jerome Jayaratne, Sri Lanka Cricket’s Head of Coaching says, “Jerome Jayaratne, Sri Lanka Cricket’s Head of Coaching says, “We identified him very early at 16 or 17 and followed his progress ever since. Even we are surprised by his rapid rise and development. His maturity, even as a 22 year old has just surprised us.” Chandimal, many feel isn’t as flamboyant as say a Mahela Jayawardene or even a Kumar Sangakkara.

FUTURE CAPTAIN?

“He might not be as talented as some of the names you mentioned, but what he does best is maximize his own quality potential, without trying to match some of his seniors, that in itself is a good sign,” says Jayaratne. Perhaps, this meteoric rise is attributed to his background. As Jayaratne says, “There are lot of cricketers who succeed, take it for granted and throw it away, and there are some who can’t have enough of it, because they don’t have things on a platter to begin with and the struggle becomes an integral part of how they see success.” Chandimal belongs to the latter category, where nothing comes easy, and the moment you earn it, you just want more of it. Kalu says, “There is a special kind of determination about these kids who come from outside Colombo and lesser privileged backgrounds.. They don’t just play for themselves, but also for their families, their friends and the village they hail from.”

Is Chandimal a future Sri Lanka captain? Both Jayaratne and Kaluwitharana nod in agreement with a certain sense of approval. “Definitely, he could captain the team in the future. He’s led teams in the past too, but at the moment, his primary objective must be to establish himself as a leading top-order batsman and wicketkeeper (in the Test team),” says Jayaratne before adding, “Once the likes of Sangakkara and Jayawardena retire, it is up to the Angelo Mathews and the Dinesh Chandimals of the world to take over and ensure that we move forward.” Kalu agrees, “I hope he will captain Sri Lanka one day.” Even Viraj Chaminda de Silva, his first coach says, “We are all waiting for it. Definitely, we want Dinesh to lead Sri Lanka. Our dreams, our school’s dreams will also come true.”

Dinesh Chandimal’s story is nothing short of inspirational. Forget rags to riches, this story is about the triumph of human character -- overcoming challenges at every level - both personal and professional. It’s a story that could redefine Sri Lanka’s cricketing future for the next decade or so.

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