Congratulations Nissanka, commiserations Dickwella: the conflicting fortunes of two Sri Lankan century chasers

CLOSE, day four: Sri Lanka 169 & 476; West Indies 271 & 34-1

Spare a thought for Niroshan Dickwella as he hugged Pathum Nissanka after the latter had reached a hundred on debut in the second innings of the first Test between Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

While the 22-year-old had achieved a much-cherished dream at pretty much the first time of asking, the voluble wicketkeeper-batsman has been there, glimpsed it, but is still to buy the T-shirt.

Nissanka delicately touched the ball fine towards third man off the irregular off spin of Jermaine Blackwood just before the tea interval to advance to three figures, and his partner, who had shared in a sixth-wicket stand of 170 to that point, was quickly up the pitch to congratulate him.

However, Dickwella, who had been past fifty on 16 occasions prior to this match without advancing to a hundred – a man who makes Joe Root look positively addicted to conversion – was 24 runs short of getting such a burden off his back.

When, soon after the resumption, Nissanka top-edged a sweep of Rakheem Cornwall to give the giant off spinner only a second taste of bowling success in this match – he conceding 144 runs off the best part of 50 overs between victims – he must have wondered whether the need for quick runs to set West Indies a testing target on the fourth evening would foil him again, especially when he saw Suranga Lakmal’s wild swing to get off the mark a couple of balls later.

But a clever paddled sweep for four off a man as imposing as Shannon Gabriel suggested he wasn’t about to alter his commitment to innovative cricket to get there.

Nissanka had become the fourth Sri Lankan to score a hundred on Test debut, a short list which stretches right back to 1987 when Brendan Kuruppu hit New Zealand for an undefeated 201 in Colombo. Extraordinarily, one of only six people to turn a hundred into a double on debut – Kyle Mayers – is also playing in this match.

The right-hander was born in Galle, where Dickwella came closest to reaching the milestone back in January when England were the visitors, scoring 92. Three times, in venues as far apart as Abu Dhabi, Colombo and Wellington, he had made it into the 80s and twice more the 70s.

As Sri Lanka passed 450, Dickwella moved into the 90s for a second time. He bludgeoned Kemar Roach back over his head to go to his highest Test score and within one big hit of his goal. Roach replied by coning him from round the wicket, ripping off the extra protection at the back of his helmet. Dickwella, seemingly the most cheerful of characters, laughed it off.

It seemed as if, this time, then, nothing was going to stop him. He had, after all, already survived a catch down the leg-side that the umpire turned down with West Indies out of reviews. But, trying to chop Roach down to third man in the next over, he agonisingly played on. “He will have to wait for that hundred – there is no doubt that one day he will get there,” said Ian Bishop on the television commentary.

But will he? There were hands on heads in the Sri Lanka dug out. They were gutted for the 27-year-old. Yet the longer the run goes on, and as bouncy a soul as he is, the more this will surely play on his mind.

Cornwall picked up cheap wickets at the end to catches in the deep as West Indies were left 375 to win with about an hour and a full day to go. In that time John Campbell survived a close lbw shout off Vishwa Fernando before the left-armer, who had finished off the West Indies first innings, found his outside edge. Kraigg Brathwaite, desperate not to lose his first game as the country’s new permanent captain, bedded in for the long haul, adding eight in 65 balls to the three in 43 balls he made in the first innings.

But at least he was still there, after 20 difficult overs, Nkrumah Bonner keeping him company.

Jingle by Richard Peel