A team in transition is always looking around for heroes. It continually seeks for people to step up and lead from the front. And eventually, it finds certain individuals who produce something astonishing that grabs everyone’s attention. Cricket Sri Lanka has been in this phase for a while. It has been throwing up a few promising talents. Yet, there seemed no one who could do something unprecedented. Amidst a string of poor performances, loss down under and the injury woes, Sri Lanka needed something exceptional. And what transpired at Durban was nothing short of a miracle. In the first test vs South Africa, Sri Lanka pulled off a batting heist. Kusal Janith Perera produced one of the best test innings till date by a Sri Lankan to take his team to an unforgettable win. His numbers alone don’t quite tell you the story. Batsmen around the world might have scored 153 off 200 before. But it’s the match situation that often defines the greatness of an innings. And this Parera special falls short of adjectives.
The Southpaw walked in at 53-3 with Sri Lanka chasing down 304. After a 58 run stand with Oshada Fernando, South Africa got 2 quick wickets reducing the visitors to 110-5. But Parera stood tall and stitched together another solid 96-run stand with Dhananjaya De Silva before the latter was tapped in front by Keshav Maharaj. Soon, the tourists were reduced to 226-9 with the hosts on a brink. How do you approach batting when you are 9 down needing 79 more? It’s a situation where the batsman has nothing to lose. With nothing but Vishwa Fernando’s mere five Test runs from seven innings to keep him company, Perera opened up. He skipped down the track and deposited Maharaj over long on for six. After raising a sensational hundred he surpassed his previous best score with another maximum by bludgeoning Duanne Olivier over long leg. He encapsulated his brilliance by picking up South Africa’s best ever bowler in Dale Steyn as he literally cannoned the ball for half a dozen on the leg side. Even as the target was getting narrowed down gradually, it just looked beyond reach. Every time Vishwa survived another over or Perera procured the strike, it felt as if the decisive wicket was just a ball away. But it seemed as if the southpaw was batting on a different deck. Parera put on a stroke-filled exhibition, freeing his arms and carting the bowling attack to all parts of the ground. Fernando at the other end somehow, stood firm, not giving it away. And the moment finally arrived. With 4 more needed, the southpaw opened the face of the bat to guide a widish delivery away to the boundary. Sri Lanka pulled off one of the greatest chases in Test history.
On the other side, South Africa didn’t quite get their tactics right. Only Faf du Plessis will know why the new ball wasn’t taken at the first opportunity. But to take anything away from Sri Lanka and KP would be criminal.
Any adjectives for the knock won’t quite make justice. It was a batting display that pretty much defied logic. That’s probably something you need to achieve greatness. You wonder what goes through a batsman’s mind in such situations. Whatever he was thinking, the sheer gumption that Perera showed is alone worthy of praise. This wasn’t a rescue act built entirely out of steel and resolve. There was dash and daring that kept us exhilarating. Parera’ style is so similar to that of The Great Sanath Jayasuriya that your mind goes back to the carnage that the Matara Mauler has left. The fierce cuts through the off-side, the stylish pick-ups off the legs and the ability to dominate bowling – are the things that made Sanath so special. Parera is only 15 tests old, but the talent is so evident. Kusal may not enter the halls of the great man; but now, the expectations will rise. Hope this innings will inspire The Sri Lankans to come out of all the turmoil surrounding them. This was an innings to savour. Because such performances don’t come around often.
Let’s look at few of such efforts that scripted thrilling chases in the past –