Having received a lifeline due to Dickwella’s suspension, he hopes to make the opportunities count
He is one of only two Sri Lanka batters (the other being Mathews) to average over 40, but has not had his place nailed down in the side over the past three years. There was a stint as captain, which was abruptly cut short; historic issues with the bouncer, which saw him axed not just from the XI but from the squad altogether, before being summarily dispatched to a Sri Lanka A tour. Then there were lean spells that have seen selectors ask him to go rediscover form at the domestic level.
That he is even in Sri Lanka’s XI now, is largely down to the fact that Niroshan Dickwella (Sri Lanka’s regular Test wicketkeeper), is serving a one-year suspension for breaking Covid protocols. Where he had been a top-order batter, Chandimal has the gloves again, and is coming in lower down.
“I started in Tests as a wicketkeeper, batting around No. 5 and 6. After about 2015, when our senior batters retired, I had the chance to come up the order and bat at No. 4,” he said. “It’s not easy to bat No. 4 and keep wickets, so I didn’t have the gloves. But now I’ve got the chance again to bat lower down and keep wickets. I’m hoping to give it everything.”
It’s possible that batting slightly lower down the order suits Chandimal anyway. He was good with the bat from No. 6 in the first Test, producing an important 45 in the first innings, and a 10 not out off eight balls as Sri Lanka were batting for the declaration in the second. Overall, he averages 47.96 and No. 5, 42.92 at No. 6, and just a touch under 40 at No. 7 – his three best positions by average. Nine of his 11 tons have come from No. 5 or No. 6.
“Since I’m the keeper, I’ll only get to bat at No. 6 or 7. For now I’m at six. It’s hard to bat higher than that, because sometimes you have to keep 100 or 120 overs, and given the weather in Sri Lanka, you need a break. It is its own challenge, because there’s only one more batter after me. But my job is to figure out how to bat with that last batter, and how to get the most out of the partnerships with the bowlers.”
His wicketkeeping was also largely excellent – on a difficult surface – in the first Test, which is particularly impressive when you consider that he had not been designated wicketkeeper in Tests since January 2017. But keeping in limited overs formats has helped keep him sharp, Chandimal said.
“In the local matches I’ve been playing as a wicketkeeper, and even during the World Cup, I did keep,” he said. “I kept my wicketkeeping training going, thinking that I would get an opportunity that way.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf