“Perera too could have gone for the big heave and thrown his wicket away, but he was more than happy to knock the ball around the corner and collect the ones and twos”
After losing 10 home games in a row, Sri Lanka bounced back with a hard-fought victory on Wednesday against South Africa at Pallekele. This win is a mere consolation for the Lankans as far as the series is concerned, but it would have certainly brought some confidence back. South Africa seemed to be in the game for long periods of time, but could not steer themselves home. They needed 61 from the final 10 overs with 7 wickets in hand in a rain-curtailed match that saw them need 191 from 21 overs after Sri Lanka had posted 306-7 from their allotted 39 overs. The Sri Lankan batting took charge. It was a collective effort from the top-order and well complimented from the middle and the lower-order batsmen.
Returning all-rounder Dasun Shanaka might have stolen the limelight with his power-hitting that saw him score 65 from just 34, but his innings would not have been possible had it not been Thisara Perera supporting him from the other end. Perera has been around for a while and has been an excellent player for Sri Lanka. He even had the opportunity to lead Sri Lanka last year.
He has batted at No. 7 or 8 throughout his career and is known to use the long handle to good effect. On Wednesday too he displayed his strength in clearing the fence, but played extremely responsibly in the initial stages of the innings. He came into the crease when there were approximately 17 overs left in the innings. He saw Dhananjaya de Silva and then a well set Kusal Perera being dismissed in the next two overs.
Perera too could have gone for the big heave and thrown his wicket away, but he was more than happy to knock the ball around the corner and collect the ones and twos. He found an excellent partner in Shanaka, who is known to play the big shots. The stage was set for him and did not disappoint. The pressure to a certain extent was eased on Perera as Shanaka was finding the fence at regular intervals. Perera had a few played and misses, but was determined to stick around.
We have often seen in the recent past where one player shoulders the responsibility of getting Sri Lanka to a good score. With nothing but pride at stake, Sri Lanka went mixed caution and aggression as they registered a huge score on the board. South Africa were without their captain Faf du Plessis and strike bowler Kagiso Rabada. But it gave two other players to prove their worth. With the series in the bag, it was good of South Africa to experiment in order to test their bench strength.
This win for Sri Lanka might propel them to more success. From 0-3 down, if they can make it 2-3, that in itself will be a superb achievement, given the way the first three matches went. Perera is one of the senior members of the team now and if he can show the maturity he showed in the fourth ODI, both he and his team will benefit greatly. He is more than handy medium pace bowler. Like any modern day bowler, he has a lot of variations up his sleeve and can also bowl at a decent pace. He does not waste many deliveries, but at times, one has to ensure that a settled batsman stays at the middle right till the end and that turned out to be Perera.
After a blistering knock in the third ODI, Dhananjaya de Silva said that he would like to be the finisher of this team. However, with the experience Perera has, he could very well take over that role. It is important to have finishers in the team – Someone who can make a difference of 15 to 20 runs with the bat at the end. Sri Lanka should encourage Perera to play a similar role in the upcoming matches. Perera is also a genuine wicket-taker and is often entrusted to bowl at the death, given his ability to hit the blockhole and his clever variations.
The captain and the selectors have a lot of confidence in him and are under a lot of pressure to deliver each time. With many newbies in the Sri Lankan side, it time for Perera and other veterans like Angelo Mathews to lead the team in a new direction. When they start taking responsibility and deliver more often, things will fall into place for Sri Lanka.
With the World Cup slated to be played in may next year, Sri Lanka must use whatever games they have before that to form a core team. They play the Asia Cup next, followed by a series at home against England, before they head to New Zealand (Only Tests), Australia and finally South Africa before the mega event. This series loss will not hurt much if they successfully manage to zero in on the main players, who will be part of the World Cup. They do not have any time to waste.