LAHIRU Thirimanne was rushed into Australia this week to cover for injuries but he still had enough time to pack the fight most of his teammates left at home in Sri Lanka.
It was far from the majestic knocks we've become accustomed to on Australian soil from left-hand Sri Lankan batsmen, but the 23-year-old showed the type of resolve that has been lacking from the visitors throughout the three-Test series.
Replacing Kumar Sangakkara, who broke a finger in the Boxing Day Test belting in Melbourne, Thirimanne arrived in Sydney on Sunday and had only one net session before his career-best knock of 91 off 151 balls before he threw his wicket away with his maiden Test century beckoning.
Lahiru Thirimanne. Photo: Brendan Esposito
''I'm really disappointed,'' Thirimanne said. ''This was a great opportunity for me after a long break from Test match cricket. I feel I batted really well, so at the end of the day I'm really happy with my performance.''
Australian spinner Nathan Lyon tempted Thirimanne with a tossed-up ball the Sri Lankan couldn't resist. He slashed at the wide delivery and sliced it to David Warner, who took a brilliant diving catch at point.
But the 8800-kilometre journey over the Indian Ocean for Thirimanne almost counted for nothing.
The Sri Lankan No. 4, who usually opens the batting, proved the beneficiary of the decision review system after he was judged LBW first ball to Jackson Bird, who was temporarily on a hat-trick.
After a brief discussion with skipper Mahela Jayawardene, he decided to review the original decision from umpire Aleem Dar, which showed the ball pitching a fraction outside the leg stump.
There was still plenty of hard work ahead for the batsman, who made his Test debut against England in June, 2011.
He was hit on the body and on the helmet during a lethal spell of fast bowling from Mitchell Johnson but the pressure was eased when Michael Clarke took the left-armer out of the attack.
''Early on the wicket had a little bit of bounce,'' Thirimanne said. ''But later on the wicket got set and the ball was coming on nice to the bat. It got easier to bat on, I think.''
While it was his first Test on Australian soil, Thirimanne batted on seven occasions in last year's one-day tri-series against India and Australia. He scored two 50s on that tour but, as on Thursday, he failed to convert a good start into a century.
He was offered a reprieve on 65 by wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who couldn't glove a bouncing delivery from Lyon that flicked the outside edge of the bat.
There was very little deviation from the bat of Thirimanne but the extra bounce stunned Wade, who was left to feel the effects of the ball thumping into his shoulder.
Having played his last Test match in April last year, Thirimanne took a while to shake off the cobwebs, especially as his international cricket match was a one-dayer against New Zealand in November.
But in his seventh Test, Thirimanne surpassed his previous highest score of 68 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in October 2011, notching his second half-century of his career.
''Kumar Sangakkara is a great player and one of the greatest cricketers in the world,'' he said.
''It's a great opportunity for me to replace him and play a Test match in Australia. I thought I grabbed that opportunity with both hands.''
Thirimanne came into the match with a Test average of just 19.84 from 14 innings, well below his first-class average of 40.81.
He has managed five scores between 20 and 40 but hasn't showed the temperament to post big runs at crucial times for his side.
He has played 31 one-day internationals and 11 Twenty20 internationals over the past three years.