Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera scored a brilliant unbeaten 153* as he single-handedly led Sri Lanka to a famous one-wicket win over South Africa in a thrilling contest at Kingsmead, Durban.
Perera, along with Vishwa Fernando put on a 78-runs partnership for the last wicket, as Sri Lanka chased down the target of 304 to record their first win in any format since October. This innings of Perera has been touted by many to be the greatest Test Innings ever.
300+ run chases in the fourth innings of Test Innings are rare, and this Sri Lankan chase at Durban was the 31st such instance in Test Cricket. Perera before the start of the First Test against South Africa averaged a dismal 28.58 in 26 innings, managing 686 runs in the process, with a healthy strike-rate of 71.83.
Batting at the number 7 position in almost entirety of his Test career, Perera was sent to bat at number 5 by the Sri Lankan think tank in the First Test, a masterclass decision that made them win just their second Test match in South Africa.
Slotted at number 5, he top-scored for the Lankans in the first innings smashing a brisk 51 off 63 deliveries, an innings that included 7 fours and 1 six. Courtesy of his efforts, Sri Lanka managed to get close to the South African total and manage to post 191, thus trailing the Proteas by 44-runs.
Watch the highlights of Perera’s innings here
However, this was just the start, as in the second innings the swashbuckling batsman notched up his effort and guided his team to emerge victorious against a quality South African bowling attack. Having been set a target of 304 runs, Sri Lanka were already reeling at 52/3 when Kusal came to bat. Soon he along with debutant Oshada Fernando persevered to stitch a 58-runs partnership amongst themselves as the Lankans put up 110 runs on the scoreboard, however, Dale Steyn had other plans. He picked up two wickets in the space of three deliveries as now the Lankan Tigers were lurching at 110/5, still needing 194 runs in five wickets.
Soon a 96-runs partnership flourished between Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva taking the Sri Lankans nearer to the Proteas total as the Sri Lankan score now read 206/5. A Sri Lankan victory now seemed to loom as the subcontinent team now needed a mere 98-runs to win just their second Test in South Africa and lead the 2-match Test series 1-0. However, Keshav Maharaj trapped de Silva leg before wicket, and in the very next delivery got Suranga Lakmal caught at slips as the Lankans now started to crumble while still needing 98 runs to win with just three wickets in hand.
Thus, now Perera changed his tactics as he upped the ante of his innings trying to score runs mostly through boundaries, while also facing the maximum number of deliveries as he was now batting with the Sri Lankan tail-enders. His plan was quite simple that is practiced by most of the batsmen, facing the maximum number of deliveries upfront in the over, while allowing the lower-order batsmen to face the last two deliveries.
Although the Lankans lost two wickets inside 6-overs while still needing 78-runs to win, however, Perera trusted his compatriot and number 11 Vishwa Fernando, with whom he managed to put on a match-winning partnership to hand Sri Lanka a lead in the 2-match Test series.
Kusal Perera was the architect of the heist which Sri Lanka managed to pull off against a quality bowling attack of South Africa. The southpaw spent 309 minutes at the crease, as he scored more than 50% of the runs that was chased. Even though being in under pressure for most part of the innings, he still remained calm and not lost his cool and played down the innings according to the plan. Vishwa Fernando, on the other hand, played his part too in the innings as he faced 27 deliveries and remained unbeaten on 6, as the duo guided the Sri Lankans past the Proteas total. During this process, the pair put up a record-breaking unbeaten 78-runs partnership for the final wicket in a successful chase in Tests. This innings of Perera is truly a gem and will be remembered by all in the days to come. The next Test starts on the 21st of Feb, and it will be interesting to see whether the Lankans can win their first-ever Test series in South Africa or not.