Dimuth Karunaratne is defining himself at the crease. With his 93 and 196 in the trying conditions of UAE, he has risen a ladder in stature.
Often, a player’s success prompts analysts and fans to compare him with his country’s other greats. It’s often hazardous, but comparisons are natural. This is currently happening to Karunaratne, although he has a long way to go to emulate the great and stylish Kumar Sangakkara.
But there are hints that with more hard work and passage of time, Karunaratne can surely get close to, if not overhaul, the legendary left-hander who amassed more than 11,000 runs in an illustrious career.
Karunaratne is one of the many School Cricket products in Sri Lanka. In fact, he got scholarship for his efficient cricket at St. Joseph School, which has also produced Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera.
As a top-order batsman, he caught the eyes of those who mattered and featured in the Under-19 level for Sri Lanka under Mathews. Slowly and gradually, he made his mark at the club cricket level, notching 1186 runs at 56.54 in 2009. That paved his way into the Sri Lanka A team, and on his first tour of South Africa, he knocked a brilliant 184 facing the likes of Vernon Philander.
Three years of hard work and then another tour of South Africa with the A team brought him to national reckoning. This time, he recorded scores of 150 not out and 83, and the chance to wear the Sri Lankan cap came against New Zealand at Galle in 2012.
Like every player, he too has had his ups and downs and had to wait for two years for his maiden hundred. It could have come at Sydney on the 2013 tour when against the likes of Mitchel Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, he cracked 85 before falling to the swing of Jackson Bird.
The three-figure score finally came as a big knock of 152 against New Zealand countering an attack which included Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner on a seaming Christchurch pitch. He defied the hostile bowling for 483 minutes but could not avoid defeat.
Two more centuries followed, one against Pakistan in another lost cause in Galle in 2015 followed by his then career best 186, also in Galle against West Indies in the same year.
This year, Karunaratne has been in a sparkling form. He stood as the best Sri Lankan batsman against a spin-packed India at SSC in Colombo where he made a sublime 141.
He started the Pakistan series with a confident 93 which set the platform for a big total, which eventually resulted in a victory by 21 runs. In Dubai too, Karunaratne batted with aplomb and diligence, building four partnerships to anchor the innings.
The quality to stay at the wicket is evident in both the innings, a requisite in an opener’s tactics. The year has so far brought 933 runs in ten Tests for the left-hander, just behind the South African pair of Dean Elgar (11 Tests, 1097 runs) and Hashim Amla (942 in 11 Tests) until Saturday.
His biggest Test will come when Sri Lanka travel to India and play against an in-form team with spinners of the quality of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav.
If Karunaratne passes that test, he will head towards his goal of becoming a perfect Test player.