Few would have backed Sri Lanka to win the first Test against South Africa at the Kingsmead in Durban with the visitors requiring 78 runs to win after losing the 9th wicket in form of Kasun Rajitha. But a brilliant effort from a gritty Kusal Perera, who slammed an unbeaten 153, saw Sri Lanka script one of their most memorable overseas Test wins in recent past.
Vishwa Fernando held the ground strong on one end and let Perera do the talking with the bat. The left-hander paced his innings as per the situation and was unaffected in his quest for a win as he ensured he took Sri Lanka over the line in the 86th over of the match, in what was an absolutely magnificent effort in a Test run chase.
Sri Lanka won the game by one wicket and Perera with his astounding effort put the Test match in the golden books of Test cricket as one of the greatest ever played.
Perera walked into the middle with Sri Lanka facing a drought of wins. If you asked someone when the last time Sri Lanka tasted victory was, they would have to think a bit, search the web and look into the archives. Perera came from a dressing room where no one is assured of a place, not even the coach. Players had to secure their spots in the team before they could even think of a win. There have been more than 8 captains who have led Sri Lanka in the last two years.
Before the team departed to South Africa, and after another disappointing tour of Australia, Test captain Dinesh Chandimal was suddenly rested and dropped from the squad! Even an Anti-corruption office has been opened in Sri Lanka by the ICC.
Sri Lanka haven’t won a game in any format since last October, that’s nearly 4 months ago – an eternity in modern day cricket. So, when set a target of 300 plus, no one believed in them. No one gave them a chance, not even their fans. But the men who mattered, they believed.
Perera walked into a lion’s den where the World’s No. 1 ranked bowler Kagiso Rabada, 4th ranked Vernon Philander, former No 1 Dale Steyn and last series’ Man of the Tournament for South Africa, Duanne Olivier were on the hunt, constantly hitting the 140kmph mark as they searched for ways to smash past Sri Lanka’s defenses.
Perera was breathtaking with bat in hand. He barely flapped an eyelid when Sri Lanka lost their ninth man with the target still 78 runs away. Dale Steyn was muscled for six over midwicket. Multiple times. One of the world’s greatest fast bowlers was reduced to shaking his head and scratching his chin. Faf du Plessis took the new ball hoping that would help them take the wicket but Perera farmed the strike so beautifully that Fernando faced only seven deliveries in this period.
Considering all the odds – struggling, split dressing room, team’s losing streak, top order failure, world’s best bowling line up and in overseas – Kusal’s innings is probably the best test innings ever. And world cricket also seems agree on it.
“Kusal Perera !!!! WOW …. One of the greatest Test innings of all time …..” tweeted former England captain Michael Vaughan.
“Could be the greatest Test innings of all time taking into account situation and opposition bowling attack” wrote former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie.
“Has to be one of the all time great innings that from Kusal Perera! Great for him, great for Test cricket! Wow! What a result!
#SLvsSA” wrote former Indian opener Sanjay Manjrekar.
“At an event so missed the South Africa -Sri Lanka test. Surely Kusal Pereira’s innings has to be among the greatest in 4th innings run-chases” wrote renowned Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle.
“Was that the greatest innings of all-time by Kusal Perera?
If not, what is?” tweeted Wisden Cricket.