Kusal Perera’s heroics should inspire and help to script a turnaround in Sri Lankan cricket……
Neither it was Virat Kohli nor Joe Root nor was it Kane Williamson at Durban, but someone named Kusal Perera script a Brian-Lara-like-epic against a ferocious bowling attack which included Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Vernon Philander. When the ninth wicket fell at 226, yet another defeat awaited for Sri Lanka, who last won a Test almost six months back against the same opposition at home. But since then, nothing has gone right for Sri Lanka.
When Perera glided Rabada towards third man for a boundary, he was not out on 153 – coincidentally it was the same score, which Lara notched up on that eventful afternoon twenty years against Australia. Like that third Test at Bridgetown Barbados, Perera’s knock was a one-man-show in a nerve-shredding run chase. He had to accumulate enormous self-belief within himself and exhibit courage when Sri Lanka still needed 78 more runs with just one wicket in hand.
In Vishwa Fernando, he found a great partner, who could just provide Perera with the ideal support to steer the ship home. Fernando left, at times, showed guts to play-and-defend some of the scorching deliveries from Steyn and Rabada and ducked against the short-pitched stuffs, which possessed enough venom to put chills down the spine of even the best batsmen. But courage and determination have a different value. It helps to travel through black waters under the toughest circumstances.
With Perera batting with so much confidence and bravery, obviously, Fernando would not let his partner down by committing something silly. Fernando dished out a defiant resistance and in my opinion, that six not out would remain one of the finest supportive-innings in the history of Test cricket.
Meanwhile, Steyn and Rabada’s speed started to increase speed. Rabada at times clocked around 150 kmph and Steyn 140 kmph. Both of them increased the heat, but the Gods of cricket did not want a tragic hero to born in Durban. The day had to belong to a hero and the hero of the day was Perera, whose career was jeopardized by injuries and inconsistencies.
Perera’s and his 153 – a score, which was scored by Billy Murdoch at the Oval in 1880, Lara at Barbados in 1999, Allan Border at Lahore in 1982-83, Neil Harvey in his debut Test in 1948 at Melbourne, Mark Waugh in 1998 at Bengaluru – his first Test ton in India, Sachin Tendulkar at Adelaide in 2008, Cheteshwar Pujara at Johannesburg in 2013 and Graham Gooch in 1981 against West Indies at Kingston. So far, there have been 32 instances of a batsman making 153 in a Test innings. Well, it seems, this 153 is meant to be associated with great batsmen and great knocks or also may help to change the fortunes of a cricket team.
For the last six or seven months, Sri Lankan cricket has gone through terrible times. While the on-field performances remained frustrating, off the field, it was chaotic as well. Allegations of corruption, strained-relationship with the head coach and officials, the musical chair regarding captaincy, indiscipline among the players and pathetic defeats in each match overshadowed the glorious past of Sri Lankan cricket.
The whole team had been suffering from a lack of self-belief and confidence. It needed someone to step up and instill that lost confidence and boost morale. Through Perera’s match-winning knock, Sri Lanka have found a way to script a turnaround.
Even Sri Lanka’s history suggests, such heroics have always proved to be instrumental in shaping up Sri Lankan cricket.
In the second Test at Faisalabad against Pakistan in 1995, Hashan Tillakaratne notched up 115 runs and lifted Sri Lanka up from 33 for 4 in first innings and in the second Aravinda de Silva scored 105 to help Sri Lanka take a healthy lead, who were trailing by 118 runs. Pakistan failed to chase 252 runs and Sri Lanka won a Test in Pakistan for the first time and ultimately went on to win the series. It heralded a new era in Sri Lankan cricket, who became World Champions next year.
In 2006, Sri Lankan cricket were experiencing a lean-patch early on. During England tour, the going was tough and Mahela Jayawardene stepped up to script a fighting hundred at Lord’s, which boosted the Lankan morale, who left the English shores after levelling the Test series and winning the 5-match One-day International (ODI) series in style. Sri Lanka would experience an absolute purple patch in the next couple of years.
Seven years ago in Durban, a Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara hundred would inspire the Lankans to win a Test in South Africa for the first time. Mind you, after the World Cup 2011, Sri Lankan cricket was experiencing a similar sort of ugly lean-patch under Tillakaratne Dilshan. Each match was a bad experience and it seemed, Sri Lanka have lost their way in the post-Murali-and-Vaas era. They lost the first Test in Centurion badly, but bounced back in second and fought hard in the third.
The whole team landed home with their heads high and in the next couple of years, Sri Lanka would experience a fantastic phase.
Such brilliant phases after a brief lean-patch have always started through gutsy knocks under pressure since 1995 and Perera’s 153 can inspire to commence yet another turnaround.
Cricket can’t afford to witness Sri Lankan cricket team in such bad shape.