A nothing day the scorecard will tell you. Not even close to three runs an over. No hundreds. Two boundaries in the entire morning session where cricket’s bloodlust is such that two sixes off one ball will not satiate it, and not many more over the rest of the day. Where was the intent? The aggression? What is 227 for 4 at the end of a day on which you won the toss and chose to bat? What is this – win the toss and bat draw? It’s nothing.
If you’re Sri Lanka right now, having been thumped at home by India in a way you’ve never been thumped at home before, lost a Test at home to Bangladesh, lost an ODI series at home to Zimbabwe, nearly lost a Test at home to Zimbabwe, been through six captains since you last changed your clothes, had the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit suddenly stick its head out and take note of you, lost a coach, dropped more catches than the world has dropped bombs on itself – I could go on because we haven’t even got to the comparing-them-to-Pakistan yet – then a day of play on which nothing happens is day to cling on to for dear life.
Right now nothing is great. No, nothing is outstanding.
Over the years Pakistan have, justifiably, got sympathy for playing at this home away from home, but don’t discount the ways in which it has helped them. Cloistered away here in a once-new, now-slightly-jaded cricketing outpost, with nobody watching, relatively limited distractions, away from the heat and rage of their own public, they have done what they didn’t always get the chance to do in Pakistan: head down, get on with their game.
Sri Lanka have been here often enough to probably be aware of the benefits but they’ve never come here in quite the state of distress as they have this time, so desperately needing some quiet time away from it all. A series in the middle of nowhere, playing to no one, with nothing obviously on the line (apart from whatever is on the line in any professional sporting contest) – this is something they could get used to. Australia-India is playing, as are England-West Indies so, hello, if you’re even reading this you must be some kind of tragic. And in case you hadn’t noticed, Ben Stokes made the Sun. Nobody’s watching.
Dimuth Karunaratne didn’t mind all this nobody and nothingness. Without meaning to make it sound like a slight, it is the kind of batsman that he is, perfect, in fact, for a day like this. No shot of his will lodge itself in your head. To no passage of play in which he is prominent, will you say, yes, this, this madethe day, this was its soundtrack. The only time you might have noticed him was when he got out and that too because one, he never looked like getting out and two, because it was one of those comedy run-outs cricket can never get enough of.
What did he do? He batted. He didn’t get out. He ran well after lunch because the outfield was thick and boundaries weren’t coming. He scored some good runs, runs which held Sri Lanka in place. Because, for a while in that morning session, when a couple of wickets were given away, Pakistan could still have been India and all of us in Sri Lanka, looking as if the opponent had merely to bowl for Sri Lanka to roll over. Instead, his runs give them a fair shot of going past at least five of their six totals against India (reminder: 291, 245, 183, 386, 135 and 181).
Nobody should care too much about this functionality and minimalism because the bottom line is that in this mess of a year for Sri Lanka, he is comfortably his country’s leading Test scorer and fifth in the world.
“We just needed to bat for longer periods of time,” he said later, as if that isn’t the most difficult and unnatural thing for many modern batsmen to do. “When we played against India, we were not able to get big totals. That was the difference. It doesn’t matter if we take time, we can capitalise later on.”
Despite top-scoring in that series, Karunaratne sought out his old St Joseph’s school coach Harsha de Silva, just to be completely right ahead of this series. “He has been with me since I played Under-15,” he said.
“He knows me well and when he was in Colombo I asked him to do a session with me. He just wanted to check how I was going and after the session he said that there was nothing technical I had to adjust, but perhaps the mindset. He said if you want to score more, be positive. I tried to be positive today and it helped me to score some decent runs in the first innings.”
The first innings, unusually, is an issue – he is an opener who averages higher in the second innings than he does in the first, and by a margin that you can’t help but notice (28.25 to 44.10). It is in the mind more than anywhere else.
“Everyone was asking me the same thing when I came down. I wasn’t too worried about technique but was just trying to adjust my mindset. I wanted to play my natural game in the first innings. When I play in the second innings I don’t think whether the wicket is turning or whatever, but just try to bat positive. That’s what I tried to do here.”
In the end, that 93 enabled Dinesh Chandimal’s unbeaten 60 and it enabled, perhaps even more significantly, Niroshan Dickwella’s little half-hour burst at the end which may have turned a nothing day into a definitively good one.