Struggle trumps grace in the revolutionary century of Dinesh Chandimal

Struggle trumps grace in the revolutionary century of Dinesh Chandimal

Sometimes you punch pretty much all day and people will still say you struggled.

An early trigger warning here. If you are a Dinesh Chandimal fan, you might not like the next few paragraphs. But stick with it, we’ll make your time worth it.

Until he went over about 70, about 140 balls in his sleeves, it didn’t look like Chandimal was playing well. He was scoreless for six balls, until he decided he had had enough. Run on the track for Nathan Lyonsdriving against the bend past cover – a shot he made, but not the shot of a hitter with supreme confidence in his abilities.

Next ball, he comes back down and throws every molecule in his body into a big pumped up drive, which carries all the way past the long limit and gives him a six.

Eight balls in his sleeves, he made 10. It looks pretty good on the scoreboard. If you only looked at the boundaries, you’d think it crushes them. But then you’d miss the hard times, the struggle… (The best times.)

Then, Chandimal runs again on the track of Lyon. But he is a world-class operator, among the top ten wicket-takers of all time. The offspinner slows the ball, drags the length back, spins it between the bat and Chandimal’s pad, and should puzzle him. Alas, wicketkeeper Alex Carey misses the ball, so Chandimal survives.

Survives, so as not to suddenly find fluidity, so as not to make Australia punish Australia for its mistakes like a 1950s school principal. The man survives just to keep fighting. Several overs later, he passes to a close receiver, and Australia appeals, then burns a critical.

Chandimal is fine. Well, really… A little slow, but good. Uh, okay, maybe not. Mitchell Starc really pushes him around with the short ball. On the 30th, Starc refuels, then bounces it. Chandimal waves his bat. Australia appeals voraciously. Starc is sure there was noise. Probably because there were. But they burned their critics and Chandimal crosses out a guard again.

He’s not a walker, Chandimal. He will do anything to stay around. Everything to stay with the fight.

There are more breakouts: An inside edge of Cameron Green that crashes into the pads. A potential batterer against Lyon who escapes by a few centimeters on the short leg. He’s hit well over 100 balls at this point, but he doesn’t seem to have his eye on it.

At the other end, Kamindu Mendis, a beginner, strikes serenely. Just as Chandimal had done on debut in Durban, when he was in his fifties twin. Beginners luck. That probably seems to be the case from Chandimal’s perspective. Unlike Mendis, Chandimal has already won tests for Sri Lanka. Let’s not forget, his most spectacular test rounds came in this location.

But there he is, jumping uncertainly, looking stiff as he returns to the spinners, still playing and missing the rapids, appearing to be in the trenches against every bowler Australia throws at him, even half times like Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head.

But then he passed 70 and everything became less fun. Maybe he had finally put his eye in it. Some timing had entered his game. He was still throwing his hands at balls, because that’s what Chandimal does, but he was connecting with them now. The balls that beat him were truly deliveries that started popping on the surface, something almost every hitter on the planet would have missed. The others, however, it was mediocre. Each molecule’s shots start to look like part of how Chandimal plays cricket, rather than wild bets.

He gets to a 13th hundred test, leads Sri Lanka to a position of strength by stumps, lives to fight another day etc etc… but that’s the boring stuff. The good times were when he struggled. When he clung to his wicket like a lifeline in rough seas. When he had to fend off the sharks that ripped chunks out of his feet…when he got his team close to a winning position, even though he didn’t look particularly good at it.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in Sri Lanka. @afidelf

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