SRI LANKA: BACK IN CHARGE
Dinesh Chandimal had his own brush with a rules controversy this year, but he remains the man to lead a young Sri Lankan side, writes Andrew Fidel Fernando.
Dinesh Chandimal looks to rebound from his own brush with the rules, writes Andrew Fidel Fernando.
ATest team battling a deficit in an away series, a ball-tampering charge against the captain with accompanying footage, all followed by a ban – does any of this sound familiar? But this is not Cape Town in March. It is St Lucia in June. The captain in question is Sri Lanka’s Dinesh Chandimal. Less than a year into the job, Chandimal is leading a young side desperate to square the series after having lost the first Test against West Indies. Perhaps it was a mental slip prompted by the urgency of the situation. Or maybe, as Chandimal claims, he simply doesn’t remember doing it at all.
Whatever the case, he is seen on camera taking an unseen object out of pocket sometime during the second day, before slipping it into his mouth, then using saliva on the ball a few seconds later. Next morning, after the umpires had viewed the footage – which may be described as fairly incriminating – a balltampering charge was laid against Chandimal, and he would go on to be suspended for the next Test.
Chandimal’s defence: that he had a number of things in his pocket during the day, including nuts to stave away a long-term, blood sugarrelated fatigue problem. He says he simply does not recall what exactly went into his mouth at the time, though he has not ruled out it could have been a sweet lozenge. In any case, he is adamant that whatever it looks like, there was “no intent” to tamper with the ball. Team management and his cricket board, have largely believed him.
If there was little public anger about the incident in Sri Lanka – relative to the outcry in Australia after the Newlands scandal, at least – it is because of the profile Chandimal has cultivated across his career. Compared to the likes of David Warner, there have been few disciplinary scrapes or stoushes with opposition players. Sri Lanka has generally been a respectful and affable outfit under his watch.
There is also the matter of Chandimal’s alluring back story. In 2004, his family had been one of those who lost their home in the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Chandimal remembers watching cricket in his family’s small living room on Boxing Day, when he heard neighbours yelling that a wave was approaching. “I ran and looked outside, and there were boats rushing towards the house,” Chandimal says. “My mother
was the only one home, so I called out to her and we ran. When we came back, everything was damaged or gone. My cricket gear, our belongings – everything.”
From that moment on, Chandimal’s life and career have undergone continuous change. Eventually, after his family recovered from the disaster, he returned to his school’s cricket team and he was spotted by a talent scout. Playing then for a local school in his hometown near Galle, Chandimal earned a cricket scholarship to the prestigious Ananda College, which counts the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga and Marvan Atapattu among its alumni. He went on to captain Ananda College in a record-breaking cricket season, and soon found himself catapulted into the national team. He thinks it’s fate that he made his Test debut on December 26, 2011 – on the seven-year anniversary of the tsunami.
Top-flight cricket has not always been kind to Chandimal. Although a fearless stroke-maker when he first arrived in internationals, technical flaws and inconsistent scores ate away at his confidence until the selectors began to pick him only intermittently, often batting him lower in the order than he would have preferred. In 2014, he suddenly developed a problem against the short ball, and was routinely out hooking – opposition captains bringing on their quickest bowlers and instructing them to dig it in short the moment Chandimal arrived at the crease.
So long frustrated by his own over-aggression, Chandimal made the latest of his major changes to his batting, and has become a transformed player since. Beginning in 2016, he started to
suppress his natural attacking instincts, and rebuilt his game around defence. The 132 off 356 deliveries against Australia at the SSC, during Sri Lanka’s 3-0 home victory, was among the first sightings of a doughty, new Chandimal. Several other marathon innings were to follow: an eight-hour 164 in Delhi; a six-hour 155 in the searing heat of Abu Dhabi; 119 not out in the very St Lucia Test in which he was found guilty of tampering with the ball. In a Sri Lanka top order frequently guilty of producing flashy but insubstantial Test innings, these contributions were often invaluable. In Abu Dhabi, he had helped set up an encouraging victory over Pakistan, which eventually turned into a 2-0 away triumph. In Delhi, he had helped Sri Lanka draw a difficult match. In St Lucia, his hundred could have set up a victory, had he not wasted two hours of potential play protesting his innocence over the tampering charge – the West Indies went on to draw that match.
And it is that St Lucia Test, perhaps, that epitomises Chandimal’s grasp on the Sri Lanka captaincy, for now. He has shown he is capable of inspiring his young teammates, and making vital contributions himself, but there is also a naivety about Chandimal that sees him squander the opportunities that he himself has helped earn in the first place. An equal propensity to self-start and self-destruct.
Sri Lanka come to Australia with a captain very eager to make amends for indiscretions in his past – a captain who is grateful that his mistakes have not forced him into a long suspension. And as a young and unpredictable Sri Lanka side aim to achieve a first Test win in Australia, perhaps Chandimal is not the worst man to have at the helm. At the very least, he has not been averse to change.
HE IS CAPABLE OF INSPIRING HIS YOUNG TEAMMATES, AND MAKING VITAL CONTRIBUTIONS HIMSELF, BUT THERE IS ALSO A NAIVETY ABOUT CHANDIMAL.
Dinesh Chandimal has evolved into a batsman that can stand and deliver for Sri Lanka.
Chandimal and coach Chandika Hathurusingha head up a young side that needs guidance – as it did in the Caribbean (above right).