Kusal Janith Perera fireworks shock South Africa – BY TREVINE RODRIGO IN MELBOURNE
Photo Source: BBC.CO.UK
Rising like the proverbial Phoenix, Sri Lanka lifted themselves from the depths of despair on the back of a spectacular Kusal Janith Perera century to shock South Africa in Durban and take the first Test.
The bludgeoning Perera, batting like his former hero Sanath Jayasuriya, ripped apart the South African attack at will to re-write history as he and number eleven Vishva Fernando added 78 runs to record the highest last wicket stand in a successful fourth innings chase in the history of Test cricket. The previous highest was 57 by Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mustaq Ahmed against Australia in 1994.
A tired Perera said after the match, “I knew we couldn’t win this match by just scoring singles. When the time felt right for me, I took my chances”.
Vishwa told me I’ll hit the ball with my body, if nothing else. You do what you can. I took a lot of strength from that. He did a huge job.
Earlier, Vishva Fernando had completed a memorable performance with the ball getting four wickets in each innings to return figures of 8 for123. Together with debutant Embuldeniya who grabbed 5 for 66, they restricted South Africa’s strong batting line-up to two totals of less than 250 to give their batsmen a fighting chance for victory if they were up to it.
Kusal Janith Perera was a late inclusion to the Sri Lankan Test team after spending time in the wilderness since his fall from grace after a series of failures. He was touted as a youngster as the next Sanath Jayasuriya but his over exuberance and flair saw him fall away and he was used instead in the shorter formats of the game.
He almost singlehandedly won this game for Sri Lanka top scoring in both innings following his half century in the first innings with his gem in the second stint remaining 153 not out. He smashed 5 sixers and 14 fours in his match winning effort.
Just weeks ago, this team was bereft of any answer to the Aussie pace blitz which ripped apart not just their batting but all self-respect they had as a team, losing the series Down Under without a whimper.
Photo source: IOL.Co.ZA
After much soul searching and chopping and changing, the team found themselves without their skipper Dinesh Chandimal who was rightly banished to the sidelines after a shocking display with the bat and the new faces injected into the side showed that reputations meant nothing to those who played their part with their heart and soul and the pride associated with representing their country.
The mood in the change rooms appeared to be more focused on bonding and playing with a common purpose. It also underlined the undercurrents that existed before by the senior members who appear to have their own agendas unrelated to the team’s welfare.
In fact, a team review video leaked out of the dressing room which had the heroic Kusal Janith Perera speaking to the group clearly suggested that there were fractured relationships within as he urged his teammates to bury their differences and play with a common goal.
The shocking one-wicket win carved out of an improbable situation where the Lankans appeared on course for another drubbing with nine down and 78 runs still needed for victory, came on the back of Perera’s responsible rotation of the strike and a bludgeoning approach where he carved the South African attack until he late cut a brilliant four to bring about victory.
The South Africans can count themselves unlucky to lose the Test doing everything right after being surprised by the feisty Sri Lankan new ball attack spearheaded by newcomer Vishva Fernando who brought surprise and uncertainty among the experienced South African batting lineup to bundle them out for 235. The home team struck back to keep things in their control by skittling the Sri Lankans for 191 before going on to build what appeared to be a match winning 304 run lead on a track that had movement and bounce. But the 259 they were able to muster in their second dig clearly suggested that run making was going to be difficult for either team on this track.
Their plan appeared to be working to script as the Sri Lankans showed little answer to the pace, bounce and variation among the South African attack. With Sri Lanka against the ropes at 8 for 215 and then 9 for 226 the result seemed a foregone conclusion until Perera and Fernando mustered courage and pulled off a stunning reversal.
The win which does wonders for Sri Lanka’s morale and confidence building will certainly stand in good stead as they build for the upcoming World Cup in England.
They need to press home their advantage and try to win the series, which if they do, will make them the first team from Asia ever to win a series in South Africa.