As one golden era of Sri Lankan cricket was coming to an end ten years ago, SLC groomed quite a few players to take on the mantle moving forward. Some have fallen on the wayside not able to make it but quite a few others have made the grade and gone onto even captain Sri Lanka successfully.
What do you make of Kusal Janith Perera? On the field he has played some blinders but largely his promise has been unfulfilled. Off the field he remains a very misunderstood man. Little do we realize that here’s a man who reinvented himself for the simple joy of the game.
You don’t agree with everything that KJP does. He should have skipped the 2021 ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup in UAE and undergone surgery. But he delayed it and in the end missed out on 18 months of cricket.
KJP used to be a right-handed batsman when he was playing under-15 at Dharmapala. He turned into a left-hander as he was full of awe of Sanath Jayasuriya. It took his childhood hero to convince him to go for immediate surgery and not delay his return when the duo accidentally met at former cricket board Chairman Vijaya Malalasekara’s funeral. It was Vijaya, who had first spotted KJP’s talent and provided him with a full scholarship to Royal College.
KJP first came into the Sri Lankan side in 2013 and barely a year later he was in midst of a controversy as the team management and the selection panel decided to open batting with him for the 2014 ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup in Bangladesh, an event that Sri Lanka went onto win. A senior player had been moved down the order to accommodate KJP and that didn’t go down too well. From thereon, KJP was an introvert, playing his cards close to his chest.
Then there was the doping allegations forcing him out of a tour of New Zealand. Credit to then SLC boss Thilanga Sumathipala the board backed him to the hilt and the allegations were withdrawn as there had been some errors in testing. But his reputation had suffered and more importantly he has lost out on quite a lot of cricket.
By now he should have been a regular in all formats but still finds it tough to make it to the Test team and may not play Test cricket at all from here on. After 22 Test matches, there have been only two hundreds and one of them incidentally was a landmark one – his career best 153 not out in Durban in 2019 – perhaps the greatest innings played by a Sri Lankan.
There have been quite a few talented Sri Lankans who have been given the long rope to find their feet in international cricket but sadly in the case of KJP that has been not so. A couple of failures and he finds himself out of the Test side.
The selectors could have handled him better. Although he can be a reserve wicketkeeper, to hand him the job on a full-time basis is not clever thinking. You always wonder what would have
happened had he not dropped David Warner in Dubai in 2021 as Australia went onto win their maiden ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup title.
Similarly, captaincy was never his cup of tea. KJP became captain by default as he was the only senior left as the selectors launched their youth policy for shorter formats of the game in 2021. He found himself to be in the midst of a pay dispute with the board and some administrators proved to be unforgiving.
Life has come a full circle for KJP. His reflexes may have slowed but he is craftier and smarter having gone through thick and thin over a decade of international cricket. His return is timely for a team that has failed to qualify automatically for the sport’s showpiece event later this year – the World Cup in India.
KJP marked his return with an half-century in the first T-20 International against New Zealand as Sri Lanka got a win under their belt on tour. Although reputed to throw his bat around in white ball cricket, at Eden Park KJP adopted a different strategy keen to bat through the 20 overs having walked out to bat in the second ball of the innings after Pathum Nissanka had fallen for a first ball duck.
In recent years one of the biggest problems the team has had is that they are unable to bat out their quota of overs. KJP did so well in the first game. He wasn’t too worried about his strike rate but did the role to perfection ensuring Sri Lanka had a decent total. He was almost doing the same in the second game in Dunedin before he threw it away.
All in all KJP’s return augurs well for Sri Lanka. Here’s a man of whom much was expected when he came onto the scene. He may have around five years in the game at the moment and barring injuries he is going to win the team a lot more games.