by Rex Clementine
Having built up a reputation for himself as a quiet achiever, Dimuth Karunaratne didn’t surprise many when he indicated that he’ll step down from captaincy after the two match home series against Ireland soon after the Sinhala – Tamil New Year.
Dimuth has reasoned that he wanted a new leader at the helm for the next cycle of the ICC Test Championship rather than vacating the post half way through the campaign. That sounds very sensible and thoughts of an unselfish captain.
Given the catastrophe that Sri Lankan cricket has gone through in the last five years, forced to play qualifying round tournaments in white ball cricket and instability in captaincy, Dimuth has done so well having occupied the Test captaincy for more than four years now. Not many Sri Lankan skippers age well like Dimuth.
There was this fast bowler who was desperate to get the captaincy but once at the helm he failed to do a decent job and had to be kicked out eventually.
Dimuth was appointed in 2019 amidst lot of gloom. Sri Lanka had been thrashed 2-0 in Australia and from Canberra the team was flying straight to South Africa. Dinesh Chandimal had been axed as skipper and Dimuth had to accept the role reluctantly. He had spent a night in a Canberra hospital prior to that after being peppered by a barrage of short pitched bowling.
Regrouping the team wasn’t easy. The side was without some of their seniors and was coming back after a series of suspensions for the team management and the captain for the ball tampering fiasco in the Caribbean.
Sri Lankan cricket had become the laughing stock at the world stage and Dimuth had to rebuild the reputation. His style was quite different from other Sri Lankan captains. He gave the players freedom, a lot of it sometimes. He felt that too many restrictions didn’t bring the best out of players and believed the best way forward was by allowing players to be independent. His methods worked as Sri Lanka stunned South Africa by winning the series. It was a historic win as Sri Lanka became the first Asian team to win a series in South Africa. In fact, apart from Australia and England no other team had won a series in South Africa. It was quite an achievement given the low ebb Sri Lankan team was at that point.
In fact, while the national cricket team struggled to come out of their struggles in white ball cricket, the Test team under Dimuth did fairly well managing wins over top nations and their captain was leading from front scoring big runs both home and away.
Dimuth had done so well that lead up to this last series against New Zealand, Sri Lanka had a chance to qualify for the finals of the World Test Championship. He ends up with ten Test wins in 26 matches and only four other Sri Lankan captains have won more Tests than him – Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Arjuna Ranatunga and Angelo Mathews. Incidentally, all four of them have also lost more Tests than Dimuth’s ten.
Dimuth was an honest man. He wasn’t the most aggressive guy but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t take up the grievances of his players. At times he was given a raw deal but he always carried himself well, never bitter and never a bad word for a mate, selector or an official.
Dhananjaya de Silva looks to be his natural successor, but what we feel matters little in Sri Lankan cricket.