Dilruwan Perera made the second highest score by a no.7 in home Tests against India as he was stranded on 92 by his irresponsible partners. Batting above no.8 for just the sixth time in 31 innings, Perera’s task at the start was simple – survive.
That he did well as he combined with Angelo Mathews to put on a vital 62 run stand. The manner in which Perera went about his business justified the selectors’ call to move him to no.7 a few Tests back. The inclusion of Gunaratne had slid him back to 8 but the all-rounder injured himself to gift Perera another opportunity at 7.
The proactive mindset
What set apart Lanka’s morning was the manner in which Dilruwan Perera hit the ground running. At 154/5, Lanka could afford little risks but Perera showed that the hosts could get a move on without taking too many risks. He slashed Umesh Yadav through point to get the day started but remained compact in defence against Ashwin and Jadeja, both of whom bowled well on a hard Galle pitch.
Jadeja stuck to his tried and tested method of bowling stump to stump lines and the pressure eventually got to Mathews who played a hideous inside out drive to Kohli at short cover to be dismissed for 88. The Mathews wicket spurred Perera on.
In the next over, he slammed Ashwin right over his head for a might six, displaying exemplary footwork to get to the pitch of the ball. Few balls later, he played a pristine cover drive off the same bowler that raced through the greenish turf onto the fence.
Jadeja continued to torment him with impeccable lines and eventually almost trapped him front although the suspect ball tracking technology revealed that the ball would go over the stumps, much to the surprise of the Indians, who had reviewed the decision.
The next time Jadeja bowled straight, Perera would get down on his knees and slog sweep him through mid-wicket. There was little recklessness in his shots and more of calculated risk taking with Lanka one batsman short. From 28 off 65 balls at the time of Mathews’ wicket, Perera raced to his half-century off 94 balls, the next 22 runs coming in quick time.
Thrice in the innings, he took on Ashwin and Jadeja for a four and six in an over while he also lambasted Umesh Yadav with utter disrespect when he returned to the attack. Unfortunately, Lanka lost men at the other end and were bowled out with Perera eight short of a maiden hundred.
It wasn’t his highest Test score though, with him making a 95 on debut against Pakistan.
Sri Lanka’s Test fortunes had taken a huge dip in the past year or so and their batsmen haven’t made the best of contributions. In this context, it is worth comparing Dilruwan Perera’s record since 2016 in Tests with the bat.
Perera has 473 runs in 9 Tests at an average of 33.78 and a best of 92* he registered today. Only seven Lankan batsmen have made more runs during this period and except Tharanga, all the others have played in more Tests than Perera.
His average of 33.78 during this period is better than that of Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne and Niroshan Dickwella. He also has the most number of half-centuries by a Lankan during this period (four) although he does not have a century to his name.
Current and future role in the Lankan Test side
Although Perera was shabby with the ball in this Test, he more than made up for it with a resounding half-century. Although in the context of the game, Perera’s 92* may look irrelevant, Sri Lanka will understand the importance of his contributions. He has been a pretty good bowler for Lanka in Tests and his batting, which was considered a bonus till a few months back, is also shaping up well.
Several times during the past few months he has exhibited patience and temperament comparable or better than many of their top order batsmen, a sign which prompted the selectors to push him up the batting order. With Gunaratne ruled out of the series, Perera will continue to don a vital role down the order, especially given the manner in which he dealt with India’s spinners.
He displayed proper footwork and sturdy defensive skills as he tackled the two spinners, both of whom are in the top 3 of the ICC Test rankings. Perera was also quick to step out and attack the ball as soon as it pitched whenever the opportunity arose but also rocked back for the pull or cut whenever the spinners faltered. Things look rosy for Perera in Sri Lanka’s Test squad at the moment although he might want to make a few inroads with the ball as well.