Dinesh Chandimal: Red-ball cricket's underrated phenom
Dinesh Chandimal is in best form of his life currently|
When Sri Lanka was going through a transition period after the retirement of their big guns, Dinesh Chandimal was supposed to lead the batting unit in Tests but failed to do so. However, he has inked a turnaround in his career this year piling up runs with unbelievable consistency.
Most veteran batters usually fade away after ageing over 30 but one Sri Lankan batter has been stretching his purple patch as long as he can of late. After going through a long spell of being inconsistent and struggling for a permanent spot in the national team, he finally seems to be playing the role of a solid middle-order batter perfectly. He is playing scintillating knocks on dustbowls against sides like Pakistan and Australia tackling some quality spinners during his stay on the crease. Dinesh Chandimal is the name of the Sri Lankan veteran and he has an interesting story of his start in the world of cricket.
Chandimal came into his Under-13 trials as a bowler who could bat but his bowling action was deemed controversial and was left out. The player who aspired to be a bowler then switched to wicketkeeping and his journey towards becoming a hard-hitting batter along with keeping the wickets started. Chandimal was a prolific run-scorer in his school and college days. He then also transferred his touch to the domestic circuit. He has 9854 first-class runs at 48.30 from 230 innings including 27 centuries. Chandimal was scoring plenty of runs and many compared his batting with Romesh Kaluwitharana. The plethora of runs finally got him his maiden call-up to the national side in 2010 against New Zealand in the shortest format.
His ODI debut came two months later against Zimbabwe but he waited a year for his Test debut, the format he is most successful in. Chandimal never really succeeded in T20Is as he has an average of 30 or more only in 2015 and 2021. Also, he scored with a strike rate of more than 120 only in 2015 where the sample size stretches only to two games. In ODIs, he scored 143 runs at 71.50 in his debut year. His peak year in ODIs was 2016 when he scored 656 runs at 59.63. His whole cricketing journey has been full of ups and downs but his form surged in Test cricket more frequently than in any other format.
He started his career with a bang hitting two half-centuries on debut against South Africa. In 2013 he produced a batting masterclass racking up 393 runs from six innings at 98.25. His form dipped again next year with the average dropping to 29.11. In 2015, when he played a sensational knock of 162* against India in Galle, his career was expected to take off with that hundred but he never lived up to his potential. From 2019 to 2021 he scored below the average of 40 each year and didn’t score any tons. He was supposed to lead the team’s batting unit after the retirement of legends like Kumar Sangakara or Mahela Jayawardene but his career has been a bizarre graph of ups and downs so far. The hard-hitting wicketkeeper was supposed to churn out runs with his experience but he was unable to do so. However, this year he is pulling off exactly that magic and it seems set to be a dream year for Chandimal with four to five months of cricket yet to be played.
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So far, he has racked up 719 runs from 10 innings at an extraordinary average of 102.71, including his maiden double-hundred. Although his sublime knocks were played on home soil but they came on difficult pitches assisting spin and with oppositions having quality spinners like Nathan Lyon and Yasir Shah. In recent times, he has scores of 66, 39*, 124, 206, 76, 94*. Even in the ongoing second Test against Pakistan, he played a knock of 80 runs in the first innings.
Chandimal’s purple patch commenced with Sri Lanka’s tour of Bangladesh in May. He scored 229 runs from two Tests in the series and was the fourth highest run-scorer. His next onslaught came in the home series against Australia. In the two-match series, he managed 0 and 13 in the first Test and it brought back the memories of suffering a dip in form after having a fine run. Just when it looked like he was getting to his old ways of being inconsistent, Chandimal lived up to the hype created when he was making his debut. The veteran carved an unbeaten knock of 206 and it was nothing less than sensational. The team had suffered a defeat in the first test in their own backyard and in familiar conditions. The morale must have been down and Australia posted 364 in the second Test on a pitch-assisting spin. They had responded with 186/3 before the arrival of Chandimal on the crease and a partnership was needed. The senior batter in the team came with a thunderous response playing an extravagant knock and led the charge of the batting unit. His methods to handle an elite spinner like Nathan Lyon were especially brilliant. He was using his sweep effectively playing it whenever the ball was pitched wide outside off. The move saved him from getting LBW as the impact would have been outside off even if he missed the shot.
Chandimal brought all his experience to the fore and built a sensational inning to script his maiden double-hundred. His run of form didn’t just end there, more was yet to come. Sri Lanka hosted Pakistan next in red-ball cricket and he once again asserted his dominance and skills over the opposition bowlers. He scored 76 and 94* in the first Test facing a quality spinner like Yasir Shah and a pace battery of Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, and Naseem Shah. In the ongoing Test also, he scored 80 runs in the first innings and looks like his purple patch has no end to it. Aged 32, Chandimal might hang his boots in the coming years but he has totally recognized that he now needs to make the most of his opportunities.
One more factor is that there has been too much shuffling with his batting positions. Number five looks to suit him best and his average of 56.20 at that position indicates the same. He should bat at number five as long as he stays in the side and it will be very interesting to see how long he can stretch his red hot form.