Dimuth Karunaratne has some good memories of Headingley, and now he is hoping to make more.
Yorkshire’s overseas batter has signed on for an initial three-game spell in the LV= County Championship, though both parties are open to the possibility of the Sri Lanka captain returning to finish off the season in September following international commitments.
The left-handed opener debuted for the county in last week’s draw against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road, posting scores of 13 and 36.
The Yorkshire faithful will get their first look at the 34-year-old when he plays against Kent at Headingley, starting on Thursday (11am).
It is a venue where he played in arguably two of his country’s most famous victories.
In 2014, he played in the Test Match which the visitors won off the penultimate ball to secure a 1-0 series win, personally scoring 28 and 45 at the top of the order.
Then, in 2019, he was Sri Lanka’s captain when they beat soon to be champions England in a low-scoring World Cup encounter. He only scored one that day but helped to engineer a defence of a 233 target.
“They are special for me,” he smiled, as he discussed his first foray into county cricket.
Karunaratne has played four times at Headingley in total – two Tests and as many ODIs.
“I got a few starts, but I couldn’t make a big one,” he said, with that aforementioned 45 his top-score in Leeds. “So I am going to need some advice from team-mates about how to bat in the first few hours and get a big score.”
Reflecting on his debut at Northampton, he said: “After facing a couple of balls, I felt it was going to be a flat wicket. So I had to make the maximum out of it.
“Unfortunately, I missed it. Hopefully I will get a big one in the next one.”
Karunaratne, who has scored two hundreds in his last four first-class matches dating back to last month, will play this week and then against Essex at Chelmsford, starting on May 5, before heading to Bangladesh for a Test series.
There are then one-day internationals and Test Matches at home against Australia in June and into July.
“I wanted to play the whole season, but the Test Matches start,” he said.
“I was due to be here for four games, but unfortunately I couldn’t get the first match because of my visa delay. I’m here for three games and then I can come back in September.”
It is no surprise that Karunaratne is so keen to return to finish the season with Yorkshire. After all, he admitted of playing county cricket: “That’s one of my dreams come true.
“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 and wanted to play a couple of games or more. In my career, I always wanted to play some games here. Playing for Yorkshire, it’s a dream come true.”
Karunaratne posted scores of 244 and 118 in a home two-match Test series against Bangladesh, for whom Ottis Gibson was bowling coach, last April into May.
Coach Gibson added: “He didn’t get runs like he normally gets in his first game, but hopefully gets them at Headingley and then our home fans can see what a fine player he is.”
Yorkshire head into the game against a Kent side who have drawn one and lost two of their opening three games this season.
They were most recently beaten by an innings against Hampshire at Canterbury on Sunday.
Opener Ben Compton has scored three hundreds already, England’s Zak Crawley has been partnering him at the top of the order, Australian seamer Jackson Bird is their overseas player and Darren Stevens remains a linchpin all-rounder.
Stevens, who scored a double hundred at Headingley and took 10 wickets in a Kent victory at the end of 2019, celebrates his 46th birthday on Saturday.
Former Yorkshire batter Jack Leaning is yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury, while Joe Denly is set to miss out with the same ailment.
Of the Northants game, which saw Yorkshire fall three wickets short of a final day victory after George Hill’s superb 151 not out in the second innings, Karunaratne added: “Both sides fought hard, but we had lots of positives. We are looking forward to the next game.”
12-player squad to take on Kent:
Dom Bess, Harry Brook, Harry Duke (WK), George Hill, Dimuth Karunaratne, Tom Loten, Adam Lyth, Dawid Malan, Steven Patterson ©, Haris Rauf, Matthew Revis, Jordan Thompson