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Cricket news - When Kusal Perera defied logic
You will read many adjectives describing Kusal Perera's fourth innings score of 153 not out to secure a one-wicket victory against South Africa in Durban. Words like 'epic', 'unbelievable', 'mind-boggling'. None of them will do it justice.
This was a batting display that defied logic. This was a knock that shouldn't have happened. When Brian Lara struck an identical score against Australia in Barbados in 1999 to win the match on his own he was rightly hailed a genius. But that was Brian Lara, one of the greatest wielders of a willow who has ever walked the earth. That was on home soil with a frothing crowd willing every flash of his blade. Of course the scale of his performance left the audience slack jawed but it was within the realm of what we considered possible from The Prince of Port of Spain.
What Perera achieved is without precedent. This was only his 15th Test match. He'd only ever scored one century before this against Zimbabwe in 2016. He was up against arguably the world's most dangerous and in-form bowling attack. Sure it was Durban's Kingsmead, a ground that holds about as much hostility as a petting zoo and one in which the hosts have now only won once in their last nine matches, but this was still a subcontinental batsman against Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duane Olivier at full tilt.
When Steyn was castled by Vishwa Fernando in the afternoon session on Friday, the target for the tourists was 304 runs. That looked an irrelevance given the way their batting capitulated in the first innings, bundled out for 191 in the face of ruthless short balls and devilish out swingers. Perera offered the only meaningful resistance against the onslaught, registering 51 before going down swinging as his teammates folded at the other end.
Sri Lanka's final effort with the bat began in predictable fashion and the Islanders headed to the close on Friday three down with 83 on the board. Perera was not out on 12. Oshada Fernando was with him on 28. The course for the next day was already mapped out. The iceberg was unavoidably up ahead. "Gentleman, it's been a privilege playing with you," one Sri Lankan must have said to his teammates in the dressing room.
The sheer bloody gumption that Perara showed is alone worthy of praise. This was not a rescue act built entirely from steel and resolve. There was dash and daring - 12 fours and 5 sixes peppered his stay in the middle which ended with a strike rate of 76.5.
Perera would not go gently into that muggy East Coast night. When Keshav Maharaj burst through Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal and Kasun Rajitha, and then Olivier bounced out Lasith Embuldeniya, there was one wicket to go but still 78 on the board.
With nothing but Vishwa Fernando's five Test runs from seven trips to the crease to keep him company, Perera opened up. He skipped down the track and deposited Maharaj over long on for six. After raising his hundred he surpassed his previous best score with another maximum by bludgeoning Oliveir over long leg. Against Steyn he encapsulated his brilliance by picking up South Africa's best ever bowler as if he were a village trundler and cannoned the ball for half a dozen on the leg side.
Even as the target was whittled down it 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.
South Africa did not get their tactics right here. 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 Perara would be criminal.
Was there ever a point where Perara had an inkling that he was on the cusp of immortality? For that is what this innings has given him. This is the highest score by a Sri Lankan in a successful chase and he played the leading role in the highest ever 10th wicket stand in a first class match, but even these facts do no justice to him.
This innings may not catapult Sri Lankan back to their glorious past. Perera may not enter the halls of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. The outcome of the second Test starting on Thursday in Port Elizabeth will likely be the resounding drubbing we all expected to take place here.
Two years ago a vastly more experienced Sri Lankan side - one who had recently bettered Australia - were humiliated in South Africa. A comprehensive 2-0 win against the Proteas on home soil last year aside, this is a team short of recent highlights. A home whitewash defeat against England preceded one sided losses in New Zealand and Australia. Now they are guaranteed at least a credible series draw away from home.
But forget about the big picture for a minute. Allow yourself to get lost in the condensation of this innings in its purest form. One man, leading his country, marching ahead amidst a bombardment in a foreign land and came out on top. Savour this one. Performances like it don't come around very often.
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