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.


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).

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