Kusal Perera’s match-winning innings at Kingsmead was one of the great moments in Sri Lankan cricket as well as in the history of Test cricket, writes SIMON LEWIS.
I’ve followed Sri Lanka since their first Test match in 1982. We all know some of the recent stars of Sri Lankan cricket, but in the 1980s Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga, Roy Dias, Aravinda de Silva and Sidath Wettimuny were among the first guard of Sri Lanka’s Test batsmen.
Wonderful players. They didn’t rock the record books, but they were joyous to watch at the crease, although they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. A tiny cricketing nation back then, devoid of international experience, and with almost no opportunity for playing in international or domestic leagues to build their cricketing experience or credentials, yet they stood firm against the established Test sides.
They fought, they battled and, yes, they lost many matches, but they played with spirit, verve and style. I loved watching them and following their scores in Wisden Cricket Monthly and the newspaper.
For me personally, Sidath Wettimuny’s 190 at Lord’s in 1984 was a turning point for Sri Lankan batting. It proved they could show up when it counted and put serious runs on the board.
It was a romantic time for cricket, and when they won the 1996 Cricket World Cup it was one of the great moments in the history of world cricket. Having followed them from day one of their Test career, it was beautiful to watch that moment unfold (and to see the despair on the face of the defeated Australian side).
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Ironically, Sidath Wettimuny was on hand to present Perera with his Test cap on his debut in 2015, but his career prior to the Durban Test had been underwhelming, averaging 28.53 with just one Test century (against bottom-ranked Test nation Zimbabwe) from 26 innings. Aside from his pair of 50s on his Test debut against India in Colombo, and a century and half-century against Zimbabwe, he hadn’t passed 50 in any of his other Test innings.
Kingsmead will, therefore, forever hold wonderful memories for Perera after his two brilliant innings (51 and 153 not out) against the Proteas. These innings came largely out of the blue and against the form book, but that is the beauty of Test cricket.
You don’t count your chickens before they have hatched. Anything is possible in cricket … and it is the foolish cricketer who thinks otherwise.
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I have never taken Sri Lanka for granted and never presumed they were a walkover as an opposition. I respect them greatly as cricketers and I revel in their glories but, sadly, when it comes to results and dominating the rankings, they are not among the heavyweights of Test or whiteball cricket.
Yet their players often stand up and perform at the highest level. Dimuth Karunaratne was the hero for Sri Lanka in the miserable series the Proteas endured last July, and ironically the opener started the two-match Test series with an undefeated 150 and a half-century, just like Perera did at Kingsmead.
Sri Lanka don’t have any Top 10 ranked batsmen to call upon, but they usually have one or two batsmen who delight and inspire with their performances against the odds.
Sri Lanka cannot lose this series now against South Africa, and the second Test will be an extremely interesting ‘test’ for both teams. As a Proteas fan, it is frustrating (and concerning) that they will be battling like mad just to draw the home series, but for all cricket fans it will be cause for celebration and, hopefully, another enthralling contest.
One of the great things about cricket is that, if you turn up on the day, do better than your best and rise above the challenges in front of you, then anything is possible.
Kusal Perera did that at Kingsmead although, to be honest, in chasing down over 220 on day four with just seven wickets in hand against one of the world’s best bowling attacks – and then recovering from 110-5 – he proved that even the ‘impossible’ is possible.
Photo: Steve Haag/Getty Images