‘Compete’, was what was expected from the depleted Sri Lankan team which took wing to South Africa. That too was believed to be a tough ask. The 17-man squad had 3 uncapped players and 3 returning players led by a stand-in captain. All eyes were on the 7 of them and 3 more highly talented under-performing players in Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva and the newly appointed Vice-Captain Niroshan Dickwella.
Three days into the game, Lahiru Thirimanne was the center of attention due to another poor performance and Vishwa Fernando, for his brilliant match-bag of 8 wickets. Debutant Lasith Embuldeniya was making the headlines for his gritty and impressive debut.
Come the 4th day, debutant Oshada Fernando walked out with Kusal Perera to resume Sri Lanka’s run-chase of 304 from 83/3. Oshada, who had an unlucky 1st innings, impressed in the 2nd innings but was dismissed after getting a start. Then began the almost customary Sri Lankan batting collapse. The only exception was Dhananjaya De Silva’s knock of 48, but he too threw it away to expose the tail.
When De Silva’s dismissal was followed by Suranga Lakmal’s, Sri Lanka had done enough to say that they had competed. They were on 206/7 and 98 runs behind. Considering the big 3-figure margins by which they’ve been losing in the recent past, this was already an achievement to celebrate.
The match was almost done and dusted. Kusal Perera, the only recognized batsman was unbeaten on 71. In a similar situation in the 1st innings, when Sri Lanka were 7-down, Kusal Perera too had thrown his wicket away for 51 runs. This time around nothing different was expected, the relief shot was just around the corner, BUT IT NEVER CAME!
Kusal Janith Perera, against all odds, stood rock firm to almost single handedly take Sri Lanka to a memorable Test win. The conditions were not friendly, the bowling attack was one of the best in the world, the opposition captain – a mastermind himself, had to bat with the tail and the target was still far away. He read the conditions well, had a clear plan, guided the tail very well, defended well and attacked at the right moment.
All in all, Sri Lanka were handed an unimaginable win. Kusal Perera, pushed Sri Lanka past the victory line with arguably the best ever Test innings in the history of Sri Lankan Cricket.
Not the 374 by Mahela Jayawardena at SSC, not the 340 by Sanath Jayasuriya at R. Premadasa, not the 267 by Aravinda De Silva in Wellington, but this unbeaten 153 by Kusal Perera will go down in history as the best Test innings for Sri Lanka. Solely because it was against the whole world.
The team was in the deepest hell it could ever be, he had zero support at the other end apart from a shaky number 11 in Vishwa Fernando who did well to survive and the pressure on him was just immense.
A match which had very little interest among the rest of the world suddenly caught everyone’s attention when Perera started showing glimpses of what could possibly be a Sri Lankan win. The ‘Barmy Army’ England’s official fan group, asked everyone to switch their TVs on!
Get to your nearest TV and switch on South Africa v Sri Lanka!
They’re 290-9 chasing 304 to win.
Test cricket ❤ #SAvSL
— England’s Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) February 16, 2019
Once the run-chase was completed the cricketing fraternity were overjoyed to see such a wonderful game of Test Cricket. Champion Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s tweet was a special one.
— Ashwin Ravichandran (@ashwinravi99) February 16, 2019
The men in the stands, commentator Russel Arnold and cricket writer Andrew Fernando, who have witnessed so many of those losses Sri Lanka have faced in the recent past, first hand, were finally able to witness a Sri Lankan win for a change, that too a historic one.
— Russel Arnold (@RusselArnold69) February 16, 2019
That may be THE GREATEST Test innings by a Sri Lankan ever.
Rockstar attack to face down. Impossible odds. Fourth innings. Away from home. Batting with the tail.
Belief. Determination. Skill. Smarts. Those ridiculous sixes.
It ticks every single box.
— Andrew Fidel Fernando (@afidelf) February 16, 2019
Sri Lankan Cricket legends were pleased to see such a performance from the youngsters, Kumar Sangakkara was in fact a bit nostalgic on Perera’s feat.
KJP just scored what could be the greatest innings ever in an overseas run chase by a Sri Lankan batsman. Brings back memories of the brilliant hundred by @MahelaJay against @OfficialCSA in 2006 at The P Sara
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) February 16, 2019
— Paras Khadka (@paras77) February 16, 2019
Tweets of congratulations
What an amazing win. One of the best if not THE best overseas win by @OfficialSLC Kusal Janith Perera was unreal. Congratulations to the team and @CHathurusinghe keep believing and keep fighting. If you compete for long enough the opportunities to win come your way.
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) February 16, 2019
What a beauty !!!! One of the best inings under presure. Showed intelligents and mental strength KJP and very proud of you. 👍👊
— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) February 16, 2019
One of the best test innings I have ever seen, well done Kusal Janith continue this superb form 👏👏👏👏👏
— Rangana Herath (@HerathRSL) February 16, 2019
— Angelo Mathews (@Angelo69Mathews) February 16, 2019
— Lasith Malinga (@Lasith99Malinga) February 16, 2019
Take a bow @KusalJPerera . What a outstanding victory for @OfficialSLC . Congratulations @IamDimuth @NiroshanDikka @KusalMendis1 @CHathurusinghe @Dhananjaya7575 . What a performance by Lasith Abuldeniya and Vishwa Fernando #SLvSA
— Upul Tharanga (@upultharanga44) February 16, 2019
Wow just amazing!! Well done the @OfficialSLC boys on this rare test win away from home👏🏼 Absolutely brilliant!! Love connection with Durban continues for us🙏🏽 kjp, ambul, vishwa outstanding!
— Farveez Maharoof (@farveezmaharoof) February 16, 2019
The international commentators too had their word on Sri Lanka’s magnificent win,
Well played Kusal Perera and @OfficialSLC 👏🏻👏🏻that was a knock for the ages. Gripping test cricket. Gosh I hope test cricket continues to be this good all year as we’ve seen in the last three weeks.
— ian bishop (@irbishi) February 16, 2019
Has to be one of the all time great innings that from Kusal Perera! Great for him, great for Test cricket! Wow! What a result!
— Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) February 16, 2019
Kusal Perera !!!! WOW …. One of the greatest Test innings of all time …..
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) February 16, 2019
The leaders of the country and the sports minister too had their say,
Congratulations to our cricket team on snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat. Kusal Janith Perera makes mother Sri Lanka very proud today! Keep fighting!
— Maithripala Sirisena (@MaithripalaS) February 16, 2019
— Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) February 16, 2019
I have no words ! Boys made us sooo proud ! I told to have faith they have talent. Weldone ❤️ Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 kusal u beauty and welldone boys the rest of the team and staff.
— Harin Fernando (@fernandoharin) February 16, 2019