You don't often see the captain of a team sitting out in an important match despite being hundred percent fit. But in the 2014 ICC World T20 semifinal, Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal opted out because of his poor form. It was, no doubt, a brave call and the event pretty much sums up Chandimal as a white-ball player. With an ODI average of 32 (with a strike rate of 74) and a T20I strike rate of 103, Dinesh Chandimal could never become the limited overs batter that everyone expected him to be and that has somewhat overshadowed his prowess with the bat in Test cricket.
Chandimal , after his fifth Test, averaged 40 and it's quite an astonishing fact that the average fell below the 40-run mark just twice but for very brief periods. If someone asks you to name some of the best middle-order batters in the world in Tests, chances are very less that you'll take Chandimal's name. Actually, he is not the most popular figure in his team itself. There is Dimuth Karunaratne who's regarded as one of the best Test openers going around. Then there's the evergreen Angelo Mathews, playing his 100th Test match. If you have two such cult figures in your team, all you can do is quietly pile up the runs and do your job. That's what Chandimal has been doing for years, almost unnoticed.
Before the Test series against Bangladesh a couple of months ago, Chandimal had just one fifty-plus score in 10 innings and was dropped from the squad for the India tour. He came back against Bangladesh, scored a patient fifty and finished the series with a match-winning ton. But for Chandimal, it was just a warm-up.
His career-best 206* came against a strong Australia side, the team that had defeated Sri Lanka in the first Test inside three days. The backs were against the wall and it was Chandimal who stepped up and once again proved his worth.
Then came Pakistan and won the first Test in some style, breaking records. But Chandimal was like a nagging headache for the visitors in that Test. In the first innings, he got out as the ninth batter and in the second, Pakistan bowlers couldn't get him out as he ran out of partners and was stranded on 94. In the first innings, he was the only Sri Lanka batter to register a fifty-plus score.
Chandimal top-scored again in Sri Lanka's first innings in the second Test with 80 and helped them get a substantial first-innings score.
With Mathews not having the best of home seasons, Chandimal has taken charge of the middle-order. The right-hander averages in excess of 100 this year with four fifties and two hundreds in ten innings. He has been Sri Lanka's highest run-getter this year and showing signs of marked improvement in temperament. Chandimal always had the skills but it has probably taken a bit of time for him to hit the gold standard. But it's better late than never and Chandimal will now look to become Sri Lanka's saviour during the transition phase of their cricket.