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 to which we've become accustomed on Australian soil from left-handed 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 fractured his finger in the Boxing Day Test belting in Melbourne, Thirimanne arrived in Sydney on Sunday and made a career-best 91 off 151 balls before he threw away his wicket with his maiden Test century beckoning.
Fell just short ... Lahiru Thirimanne. Photo: Reuters
''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.''
Nathan Lyon tempted him with a flighted offering 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 just after drinks in the final session.
But the 8800-kilometre journey over the Indian Ocean for Thirimanne almost accounted for nothing.
The Sri Lankan No.4 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.
The decision was overturned but there was 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 had the pressure released when Michael Clarke bemusedly took the left-armer out of the attack when he had Thirimanne rattled.
''Early on the wicket had a little bit of bounce,'' he said. ''But later on the wicket got set and the ball was coming on nice on to the bat. It got easier to bat on, I think.''
While it was his first Test in Australia, he batted seven times in last year's one-day series against India and Australia. He scored two 50s on that tour but, like he did on Thursday, 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.
Wade has had his troubles behind the stumps this summer and they continued on Thursday.
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 considering his last match of international cricket was a one-dayer against New Zealand in November.
But in his eighth Test, Thirimanne surpassed his previous highest score of 68 he made against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in October 2011, notching his second-half century.
''Kumar Sangakkara is a great player,'' 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.''