Dimuth Karunaratne could play pivotal role in Yorkshire CCC’s County Championship title ambitions

DIMUTH KARUNARATNE could be back at the business end of the season to boost Yorkshire’s hopes of winning the County Championship.

The Sri Lanka captain has signed for three matches at this stage.

He made his debut in last week’s game at Northants and will play against Kent at Headingley on Thursday and away to Essex the following week.

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But player and club are hopeful he could return for the four fixtures in September when the title will potentially be on the line.

Dimuth Karunaratne of Yorkshire looks on during the LV= Insurance County Championship match between Northamptonshire and Yorkshire at The County Ground on April 22, 2022 . (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Yorkshire travel to Lancashire for the Roses match at the start of September, play the return game against Essex at Headingley, face Surrey at the Oval and then Gloucestershire at Headingley in their final fixture.

Should Karunaratne feature in all of those games, he would make seven Championship appearances in total – exactly half of the four-day season.

Visa problems prevented the 34-year-old from featuring in the opening match of the competition against Gloucestershire in Bristol, while impending international duties preclude his participation directly after next week’s trip to Essex (Sri Lanka tour Bangladesh later next month and then welcome Australia for a tour that continues until mid-July).

But the diary looks clear after that (for the moment, anyway) before the latest edition of the T20 World Cup in Australia in the autumn, and the left-handed opener is keen to extend his stay at the club.

First impressions: Dimuth Karunaratne of Yorkshire plays the ball to the boundary during the LV= Insurance County Championship match between Northamptonshire and Yorkshire at The County Ground last week.(Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

“I wanted to play for the whole season but the Test matches start soon,” said Karunaratne, who made a hundred in Sri Lanka’s most recent Test against India last month in Bengaluru.

“I was due to be here for four games but unfortunately I couldn’t get to that first match because of my visa delay. But I’m here for three games and then hopefully I can come back in September. There are four games that month and hopefully I can play in all of them.”

Karunaratne, who has scored 5,620 runs in 76 Tests at an average of 39.57, said he always wanted to play county cricket.

A planned move to Nottinghamshire last summer fell through due to the Covid situation, while international duties scuppered an intended stint at Hampshire in 2019 when he was recalled for the World Cup competition in England some four years after his previous one-day international appearance.

Dimuth Karunaratne is finally playing county championship cricket after two aborted attempts (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Playing county cricket is one of my dreams come true,” he said. “I had a few chances since 2018 but, because of national duty and last year with Nottinghamshire because of Covid, it was a miss.

“This one I was really trying hard for because I always wanted to play some games here (in county cricket). Playing for Yorkshire is fantastic and a dream come true.”

Karunaratne had a quiet start at Northants, scoring 13 and 36 in the draw at Wantage Road. He batted nicely in the second innings, though, sharing a 73-run partnership with Adam Lyth, and his presence forced a move down the order to No 3 for George Hill, the 21-year-old who responded with his maiden first-class century.

“Hill, he was really good, outstanding,” said Karunaratne. “It seems like he can handle spin really well.

“He will be a good batter in the future, for sure, and Harry (Brook) was also very impressive.”

Of his own efforts and first experience of playing for Yorkshire, Karunaratne said: “It was a good batting track.

“Both sides fought hard and we had lots of positives.

“In the early summer, wickets can have pace, bounce and more seam as well, but after facing a couple of balls (at Northampton), I felt it was going to be a flat wicket, so I had to make the most of it.

“Unfortunately, I missed out, but hopefully I’ll get a big score in the next game.”

As attention now turns to Thursday’s match, so Karunaratne’s mind goes back to his previous appearances at Headingley for Sri Lanka.

Although he did not pull up trees there in the 2019 World Cup, scoring one against England and 10 against India, he was part of the side that inflicted on England one of three defeats in that tournament – a 20-run setback that threatened to shatter their hopes of winning the trophy.

He was also part of the team, in 2014, that sealed Sri Lanka’s first Test series triumph in England with a 100-run win in the Headingley Test, clinched from the penultimate ball of the match.

Karunaratne scored 28 and 45 in that game but was dismissed for 0 and 7 in the 2016 Headingley Test, which England won by an innings and 88 runs.

“I’ve played there a few times and it’s a really tough wicket,” he said. “I am going to need some advice from team-mates about how to bat in the first few hours and to get a big score.

“I played in both the (2014) Test win and World Cup win, and they are special memories for me. I’ve got a few starts (at Headingley) but haven’t made a big one, but I want more experience on those tracks and to get some runs in county cricket.”

Karunaratne has certainly impressed Ottis Gibson, the Yorkshire head coach who has long been a firm admirer of the player.

“I’ve played against him (while coaching with Bangladesh),” he said. “He made hundreds against us in Sri Lanka and he’s a very good player.

“I’m quite sure that he’ll get runs for us. Hopefully he gets them this week at Headingley and our home fans can see what a fine player he is.”

Meanwhile, governance reforms voted for by the Yorkshire members have now been officially registered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

At an extraordinary general meeting on March 31, members ratified the appointment of Lord Kamlesh Patel as chairman and Paul Hudson as chief executive, along with changes to the make-up of the board designed to increase its diversity and independence.

The England and Wales Cricket Board had made such changes contingent on the club being allowed to host international cricket again following the racism allegations made by former player Azeem Rafiq.

Yorkshire will host a Test match against New Zealand in June and a one-day international against South Africa in July.

Keith Moss MBE, the former Yorkshire chairman, has been appointed president emeritus of the Bradford Cricket League.

Moss recently stepped down as the league’s president, bringing to an end 72 years of unbroken service in sports administration.

Moss, who chaired Yorkshire from 1998 to 2002, has also been awarded the Sir Leonard Hutton Trophy for his unstinting efforts for the Bradford Cricket League.

He is the only person to have won the award twice, having previously done so in 1999.