Chandimal and Thirimanne move up in Lanka’s scheme of things

Rex Clementine, in the Sunday Island, 4 March 2012  under a different title

After Sri Lanka’s remarkable fight back at Lord’s last year to save the second Test, the team was engaged in a three day warm-up game at Chelmsford, a 30-minute drive from central London. The opposition was Essex and both Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal, who were yet to make their debuts, featured in that game.

As the Sri Lankan journalists who were covering that series squeezed in inside the tiny press box at Essex’s home ground, the Manager of the team Anura Tennekoon walked in and inquired from us how the young Sri Lankan openers (Paranavithana and Thirimanne) had faired.

There had been a school of thought that the third opener on tour to England should have been Malinda Warnapura, so journalists had their reservations about Thirimanne and informed the former Sri Lanka captain that the youngster had left a ball that was too close to his leg-stump. Tennekoon looked at us and simply said, “well, leaving the ball is also a talent.” Tennekoon looked as if he was a huge fan of Thirimanne. He went on to make a hundred in that game and beat Chandimal to Test debut when he became the 116th Sri Lankan to wear the blue cap at the Rose Bowl. Chandimal’s turn came later in that tour as he stunned Lord’s with a hundred at the home of cricket.

Both batsmen have done enough to impress Sri Lankan authorities and thrill the supporters in the current Commonwealth Bank Series, but their struggles growing up are hardly known for many.

Tsunami and suspect bowling action: Chandimal, who was born at Balapitiya is the eldest in a family of five and he was a 15-year-old when his house was washed away by the December 2004 tsunami and affected his father’s livelihood. Through sheer perseverance and dedication, he reached where he is at the moment. His introduction into cricket wasn’t great either. When he turned up for Under-13 practices at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda, he started off by bowling off-spin and soon realised that his bowling action was suspect. Young Chandimal thought that it was all over for him!

The Island’s champion school cricket reporter Reemus Fernando, another stalwart who hails from down south, in 2008 spotted his talent much before dirty player agents did and asked him the question how it felt when he was called for throwing.

“It was a bitter experience,” he said in 2008. “I was bowling spin and was ruled no balled for chucking in practice matches. Asoka Kumara was my coach then and he advised me to start keeping wickets for the team. That paid dividends and I was safe behind wickets,” he added.

Match saving knock at Asgiriya: From Dharmasoka College Chandimal shifted to Ananda College and was an instant success going on to represent the country as a wicketkeeper batsman in the Under-19 World Cup. The knock that made cricket authorities to take note of his rare talent was his match saving 143 made against India Under-19 at Asgiriya a couple of years back. “That was sheer grit,” our expert Reemus says.

One of the best things to have happened to Chandimal was the insistence of Duleep Mendis, the former Chairman of Selectors that he should bat at number four in ODIs. Although, the call was resisted by some when it was about to be introduced it has worked marvelously well. After early failures, Chandimal has produced more than one match winning performance in that slot.

THIRIMANNE: While Chandimal studied in Art’s stream for his Advanced Level, Thirimanne was a lot more prolific academically. In fact, cricket ended his brilliant academic career!

Thirimanne, who was born in Moratuwa schooled at St. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela as his father, who was employed at the Survey Department was transferred. He started his cricket at Prince of Wales College and that switch actually came after he got through the Grade 5 Scholarship.His father’s untimely death when he was 11-years-old was a cruel blow for young Thirimanne. “I studied initially at Bandarawela and came to Prince of Wales on a scholarship. Moratuwa was our home town. Our father died the same year we returned to Moratuwa and my uncle Viraj Thirimanne was my guiding light,” Thirimanne recalled.

The influence of Aravinda: Former batting great Aravinda de Silva has been a big influence on Thirimanne’s career. He was once left out of Sri Lanka’s Under-17 team’s tour of Malaysia despite averaging a phenomenal 167. When he was left out of the squad for the Undr-19 World Cup, Aravinda, who had seen his talent in his capacity as a batting mentor for the Under-19 team raised his voice and was influential in drafting him in.

“I passed the GCE O’L Examination with seven A’s and three B’s. I opted to do Advanced Level in Math’s stream but I couldn’t sit for my GCE A’L Examination as I was selected for the Under-19 World Cup in August that year. From thereon, I was called up to join the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team and sitting for the examination for the second time also thwarted. I do not regret not having completed my GCE A’L,” he said.

The two currently occupy the batting positions once occupied by Roy and Duleep and lately by Aravinda and Arjuna. How sweet it would be, if these two are able to match the feats of those great men to wear the blue cap.

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