by Rex Clementine
Cricket has given us different types of leaders from whom we can learn much. While the nation’s first Test captain Bandula Warnapura fought tooth and nail for his men, Arjuna Ranatunga was the general, who knew only two ways – my way or the highway. Sanath Jayasuriya could be tough when he had to but mostly democratic in his approach. No body could match MJ when it came to tactical brilliance while Sanga lead by example leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of success for himself and his team. What kind of captain was Dimuth Karunaratne, whose term ended recently with the appointment of his deputy Dhananjaya de Silva as the Test captain.
Dimuth took over at a period of uncertainty in 2019. Prior to that in less than two years there had been four Test captains while the limited overs team was in a similar turmoil with multiple captains.
Players clashed with coaches and even selectors and there was deep infighting within the players. The reputation of Sri Lankan cricket had suffered huge blows after they were caught tampering with the ball in West Indies. Manager, Head Coach and Captain were all suspended by the ICC. Into the bargain, there was a corruption scandal as well with a record number of ICC investigations initiated on Sri Lanka. Dimuth took over at a troubled time with people suspicious about our cricket but soon brought transparency into the set up. Gradually Sri Lanka earned back the respect.
Dimuth was a laid-back leader. The team culture when he took over was a rigid one. Strict curfews, little trust among players, each one looking over the other’s shoulder were all affecting the team. The new captain brought in some easiness. He gave the players freedom and told them to trust their instincts playing without fear. This brought in much needed calm within the Sri Lankan set up.
There have been some coaches during his tenure who were masterminds with tactics but very poor man managers. This is where Dimuth’s expertise came in. He managed players quite well. His mantra was come to me with your problems and I will stand by you.
The results were instant. His first series as captain was South Africa. Sri Lanka headed there straight from Canberra where the newly appointed captain had been taken to hospital after being hit by a bouncer. He wasn’t alone. There was KJP as company to him.
Dimuth’s leadership style worked as the team culture was changed overnight. Sri Lanka recorded a come from behind Test match win in Durban. That was followed by another sensational victory in Port Elizabeth.
To this day, Sri Lanka is the only Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa. To this day, only one Asian captain has won a Test series in South Africa. Not M.S. Dhoni, not Younis Khan, not Virat Kohli, not Wasim Akram but Dimuth Frank Karunaratne.
Dimuth won 12 Test matches as captain, which is the same amount the great Arjuna Ranatunga won. Some of those Test wins were against teams like Australia and Pakistan and last year under his watch Sri Lanka had a shot at the World Test Championship final before finishing a commendable fifth.
Sometimes captains tend to overstay their welcomes. But to his credit once the last Test Championship cycle was over, he told the selectors that he intended to step down. There was lot of common sense in his sentiments. He explained that he wanted the new leader to assert himself before the new cycle of Test Championship began. However, the selectors persuaded him to stay on and he hung around reluctantly.
Under Dimuth’s watch, Sri Lanka turned a huge corner. He was kind of a leader who minded his own business and wanted fellow professionals to live up to expectations. But at times he was too easy going. When you have incorrigible individuals like Niroshan Dickwella, you need to put your foot down and assert yourself. What Dickwella does off the field is none of our business, but when he crosses that white line, he better remember that he is representing his country.
Dickwella was one player whom Dimuth trusted heavily. He showed continuous confidence in his keeper despite some horror reviews. Dimuth was told that his keeper needed to get his act together, but as a leader he failed to reign in the young man. Some of those reviews cost Sri Lanka heavily.
In order to persist with Dickwella, the argument that Dimuth put forward was that he was the best keeper in the country. Nobody denied it. Bue he needed to get his reviews right and show more maturity with the bat. Ironically, it was a dropped catch that eventually pushed Dickwella out of the side with the selectors losing patience finally.
Overall, it’s been a terrific run for Dimuth. He took up the captaincy at a difficult time and didn’t abandon the team when the going got tough. More importantly he is leaving the side in a better place than he found it.