Inside the heart of a Karunaratne classic

Dimuth Karunaratne and Sadeera Samarawickrama head back to the pavilion
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 1st day October 07, 2017

There are two ways to look at the fact that Dimuth Karunaratne was fielding questions about his absence from Sri Lanka's ODI squad on an evening when his seventh Test hundred put his side in control of a Test match.

One is to see it as a bit of a disservice to a near-flawless innings. The other is to acknowledge, happily, that a Karunaratne performance has become such a routine occurrence that we may as well talk about other things now.

For the record, Karunaratne did not seem especially bothered by not being part of the white-ball squad. He will, of course, play, he said, if the selectors asked him; he will take things one game at a time, but right now was the time to focus on his Test career. He wanted to get better as a batsman in the longest format, to be more complete. And, if his recent performances are anything to go by, he seems to be enjoying Test cricket more than ever.

Why wouldn't he? Any time you can tell people you've scored more Test runs in the year than Steven Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and David Warner has got to be an enjoyable feeling. Only Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla stand above him.

For long parts of it, the century could have been an extension of his first-innings 93 in Abu Dhabi, the innings that did so much to ease Sri Lanka into that Test. He broke through this time, though, and remained unbeaten but the knock, in essence, was a reprise. There was perhaps a sniff of a chance to short leg in the second over of the day but, that apart, this was Karunaratne as conceived: functional, operating inside some kind of undisturbed, airless chamber.

That is, however, not to say it was dull, or colourless - not at all. Only that it was so composed and matter-of-fact. Some of his play off Yasir Shah, for example, was imperious, none less than the up-and-over clip over midwicket that brought up his fifty. And he was particularly severe on Mohammad Amir, off whom he hit 10 of his 15 boundaries. Yasir and Amir are Pakistan's premier bowlers, so the message was clear.

And it came in what was, effectively, his first serious game with the pink ball and under lights. "I played a first-class game in Sri Lanka and got a hundred there," he said. "So I had some confidence going into this game although what I played in Colombo was a day game.

"Mostly we played in the day time today and only the last session under lights. The first four hours it was nice and smooth but the last two hours were tough. Under lights it is very, very tough. Amir bowled really well. [Mohammad] Abbas didn't get much side movement earlier on, but he was tough to face with the second new ball under lights.

"It wasn't easy. We have done the hard work and now we need to cash in in the morning. We were not looking for runs after they took the second new ball. We were just trying to see off the day."

Though it was his 118-run unbroken partnership with Dinesh Chandimal that really secured the evening for Sri Lanka, the swift 68-run stand with Sadeera Samarawickrama had set the day racing. Samarawickrama, on debut no less, played in some respects the innings of the day - the point at which Sri Lanka looked most ascendant. Over 35 balls, it was played without a care in the world, or an obstacle in the way of him displaying his skills. In a couple of his inside-out drives, there was even a glimpse of - go on, admit it - Mahela Jayawardene.

"He was the highest run-getter in first-class cricket last season," Karunaratne said. "He played well today. I tried to give him confidence and he was very positive. I told him just to play his game. He had no fear and was very comfortable. Once he gets more experienced in this level he will convert them into big ones I am pretty sure."

A little of Karunaratne's focus and know-how, the ability to navigate a path through a day, one session at a time, will not go amiss. That ability has left the destiny of this series, for now, in Sri Lanka's hands.

"We had a bad series against India," Karunaratne said. "We want to desperately win this series. We are hungry. We just want to play our best and give our best and win the series. We are taking it one day at a time. On day one, we have done well and hopefully we will do well on day two as well."

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