Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Colombo, 1st day March 15, 2017

Boy racer Chandimal steers clear of trouble

The booming cover drive was packed away as Dinesh Chandimal buckled up for the safety-first innings Sri Lanka needed
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Dinesh Chandimal found form with a watchful innings at the P Sara Oval © Associated Press

Dinesh Chandimal has a big, booming cover drive, and everyone knows it. Mahela Jayawardene had one that purred like the engine of a Jaguar. Kumar Sangakkara's became so high class and epoch-defining he could have had the Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy installed on his forehead.

Chandimal's is more fast-and-furious than grace-and-finesse: a lowered Subaru Impreza with a flaming paintjob, blinding rims, and an exhaust pipe that could house a small elephant. I mean, just watch him in the shot. His head stays steady, but his arms are almost a blur - the backlift massive and menacing. He doesn't stroke or hit the ball, he outright assaults it.

Like the boy racers who take their cars flying around residential zones, though, Chandimal's drives can be endlessly annoying when deployed in the wrong place. The tour of South Africa was like this. Repeatedly, coaches and captain would go on record pleading with batsmen to take care in their shot selections, to show a bit of patience, and please for the love of all that is good and holy, refrain from driving at the seaming bloody ball. Yet there Chandimal was, a senior man by number of Tests played, flashing giddily, sending balls to keeper or slip, bringing hundreds of thousands of palms to faces.

When he was subsequently told by the chief selector to retune his game in first-class cricket, Chandimal seemed to radically alter his approach. His first innings at Galle last week was almost a self-flagellation for his South African extravagances - he spent 71 minutes and 54 balls at the crease, but scored only five runs. Had the long drought scrambled his mind completely? On as flat a surface as Sri Lanka has produced in a year, Chandimal's was an innings so out of character you couldn't help but wonder if he had lost a little bit of himself again, as he had once done in 2014.

He made 50 not out in the second innings of that game, but this did not convince the doubters either, so easy had that half-century come. Sri Lanka were completely dominant when Chandimal came to the crease and, in an ideal world, would not have delayed the declaration long enough for him to get the milestone. What was the point of virtually gifting a Sri Lankan batsman a score, after all? Chandimal has come through one of the weakest domestic circuits in the world: he already has access to a lifetime supply of meaningless fifties.

At the P Sara on Wednesday, however, he was suddenly everything fans wanted from a senior batsman. Chandimal put his fingers on the pitch and batted to its pulse, discerning early on it was more devious than it appeared. The scoring opportunities were not spurned altogether, but the brash strokes had definitely been locked up.

For one day, at least, Chandimal was the station wagon Sri Lanka needed, rather than a roaring Subaru

Today, it was his team-mates who were running themselves off the road and into bushes, or plunging off avoidable cliffs. Through most of the day, Chandimal kept his tyres on the tarmac, and just kept plugging on. His unbeaten 86 came off 210 deliveries, and featured four fours. Only one of those boundaries was the result of a drive - though this one was crisp rather than flamboyant, and hit further towards the centre of the batsman's V than way out towards the badlands at deep cover.

"We analysed that he's got out a lot against seam bowlers, driving outside off stump, early on," coach Graham Ford said of Chandimal after play. "That's been his downfall a lot of the time. When he puts that lovely looking cover drive away and doesn't use it early on, he gets big scores. When he hits it, it's an exquisite shot, but it's a high-risk shot in Test cricket, especially if he's batting at No. 4 and getting in earlier.

"It's more about his mindset. He's the first to admit that rather than getting himself in, he's played a few ambitious shots trying to get himself moving or get the scoreboard going. But he's come back and really thought about his game."

In fact, so responsible did Chandimal's innings seem, that he even took on a role Angelo Mathews had turned into an art form: that of looking supremely pissed at the non-striker's end at a team-mate's loose dismissal. Chandimal raised palms up to ask Dhananjaya de Silva "why?" after he tried to hack Taijul Islam over midwicket and got himself bowled. He was visibly annoyed when Niroshan Dickwella had his stumps rattled playing a fantastically poor reverse sweep. Even Dilruwan Perera - whose major role is with the ball - got an eyeful of ire from Chandimal when he chased a wide ball and edged behind.

Chandimal's has been a rapid transition from wasteful talent to stern senior man, and to be fair, with him there is no telling when he will transition back again. But for one day at least, he was more station wagon than roaring Subaru. And man, did Sri Lanka need it.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan17403080 on March 16, 2017, 12:45 GMT

    You are extremely right Andrew, thanks for the article about moving cricketer..

  •   Nandana Pathirana on March 16, 2017, 4:37 GMT

    Chandi is a hard Team Man. But it could bring too much pressure on him too. Relax and play. You cant always control what is going around, even yourself. His thinking could be affecting his game.

  • Indyopc on March 16, 2017, 3:25 GMT

    Another brilliant article Andrew. Yes Chandi was more like a driver less super car which gave wrong directions in the GPS. He didn't know where he was heading in the past. His previous inning of 5 of 54 was a good example.This inning of his may do wonders for his confidence and it has actually held our team together when everyone else was perishing from the other end mainly due to poor shot selections. Wonder whether SL team has got that from the Bangla batters?? these bad habits can be contagious and it doesn't take much time get infected. All in all good to see him getting some runs and hope that he will keep this composure in the future as well. We have seen in the past, Chandi does seems to go back to old habits when he is in top form and loose the place in the side after failing contentiously.

  • Ishan samaraweera on March 16, 2017, 2:48 GMT

    A great article from that man yet again.,, Keep writing more and more interesting articles Andrew!!!

  • markatu on March 16, 2017, 2:38 GMT

    Great that Chandimal has matured. Dickwella needs to be more disciplined instead of always going into 2020 mode

  • cricfan53749087 on March 16, 2017, 2:00 GMT

    Well said Andrew. Chandi's bat did the talking. He would not have to go back to club cricket as Sanath said. Sana has to be ashamed himself saying a thing like that. He is the most technically correct batsman & should be given the due place in all formats rather shuffling up and down.

  • KingOwl on March 16, 2017, 1:39 GMT

    No doubt a very spunky knock from Chandi. I am glad he got these runs. Invaluable to the team. I was one who wanted him out of the team for this test. But I am glad I was wrong!

  •   cricfan82288902 on March 16, 2017, 1:27 GMT

    Wonderful article Andrew! That last paragraph sums up the thoughts of all Sri Lankans. Hopefully Chandimal keeps being the station wagon. After all, this is a man who has the talent and capability to be mentioned in the same breath as Kohli, Williamson, Root and Smith!

  • Gravity_down on March 16, 2017, 0:59 GMT

    I am so curious to know what is going on in that head of Dinesh CHandimal. I mean how can you or why would you want to have a radically contrasting game plan in every other innings? who is talking to him and who is he listening to? Can we decode his thinking? He is been around for a long time and has he figured out his game yet or did he figure it out a few times over....what's the game plan chandimal? If you are changing it so much...is it possible this plan is also short lived...don't mean to be pessimistic but you cant help but wonder...

  • Murali_the_greatest on March 15, 2017, 22:44 GMT

    A talented and imaginative journalist, cricinfo could really do with more of these.

    As for Chandimal, his ability is not in doubt, just remember that matchwinning 160 odd he smashed against India on a turning track at Galle - which prompted a certain other Indian Cricinfo journalist to write an article on how apparently lucky Chandimal had been. Chandimal just needs to go through the gears in order, he played well in the series against Aus too by being more patient early in the innings.

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