Keep dreaming as dreams are free… they don’t often come true but now and again they do. And when they do, it really is incredible. That’s some thing I always believed in.
The miracle of Durban was indeed a dream come true for Kusal Perera and Sri Lankan fans all around the world. Cricket was at its absolute best at Kingsmead and the only factors the Sri Lankans could cling on to, going into the game, were their record in the two prior Tests in Durban and the law of probabilities.
The issues were endless – administration in turmoil, allegations of corruption, injuries, the form guide – there were uncertainties in every direction you looked.
Add to this, the fact that Sri Lanka were playing away in one of cricket’s toughest terrains. Leaving the shores of Sri Lanka, the challenge was to get used to the conditions. The numerous injuries to the best players and the bruising in Australia, where players peppered with short stuff kept falling all over the place, made Sri Lanka’s proposition in South Africa all the more vulnerable. Moreover, the Protea attack is probably the best in the world, an attack that was blasting through every opposition when playing at home. They were also smarting after their recent humiliation in Sri Lanka and were gunning to avenge the same.
An amazing show of character, resilience, composure and the requisite touch of genius were to script a story that will be remembered for years and years. It was brilliance from someone who has never shown signs of such class. Perera is a player who usually likes to hit, read smash, the ball. He has featured more in the shorter formats, and in fact only won a place thanks to his white-ball form.
He did show that he was capable of standing head and shoulders above the rest during the first innings. His 51 was by far the highest score and the way he approached it was extremely admirable. New heroes and more positives have emerged for Sri Lanka, with the debutants and relatively new faces showing the energy that was lacking in the team in recent times.
It never appeared that this depleted bowling attack will have it in them to bowl out an opposition twice. Time and again, the bowling attack has found ways to squander hopes, but in this strange game, the finish line never went out of sight. There was plenty happening for the shoulders to droop, and even the officials seemed confused. Plenty of heart and skill was on display from Perera, but the grit that Lasith Embuldeniya showed in the first innings, he faced as many balls as Perera did, was exemplary too. He then backed that up by showing that the hunt for the next big Sri Lankan spinner could be over as he got himself a fifer on debut. Vishwa Fernando, too, continued to impress with his late swing, even with the old ball. After picking up the last five wickets in South Africa’s second innings for 28 runs, Sri Lanka suddenly found themselves with a chance to shock the world. But victory still looked unlikely, what with Sri Lanka’s recent form and coming up against the feared Proteas attack.
When the fourth day began, everyone expected it to be a formality for South Africa, with Sri Lanka already three down and 221 runs behind. But there was always something at the back of the mind that kept saying, it only needs one guy to get a hundred…
The same thought reappeared as Sri Lanka were reduced to 110/5. Perera stayed positive, which was expected, but he was unbelievably composed in defence, which was surprising. He found an able ally in Dhananjaya, who, despite throwing his wicket away when the deficit was down to two digits, batted the best I’ve seen him bat. But with his wicket, South Africa were all over the batsmen once again.
In Canberra, Perera was helped off the ground after failing to hold his feet following a mild concussion that an ugly blow to his head delivered. Here, again, he got hit and writhed in pain. My thoughts went back to Canberra, and felt it was only probably a matter of time before those demons came back to haunt him. But he didn’t flinch. Didn’t panic. And then the magic began. Whenever he attacked, the ball flew off his bat into gaps or into the stands. But more importantly, there were plenty of leaves, dead bats and singles in between. At nine down, he initially looked to shield Fernando, the number 11 batsman, and I guess this is where South Africa made the mistake.
They were happy to sit back, with many players manning the fence, and backed themselves to bowl Fernando out with the one opportunity they would get every over. “I am ready to wear a few, you do what’s required,” said Fernando to Perera. He stood in front of the stumps, missed the outswings and ducked and weaved away clumsily. But he survived.
The second new ball arrived, and went even quicker as Perera targeted the fiery Dale Steyn to put him into the stands on a couple of occasions. The rub of the green needs to go your way in tight situations as these, and it did with a top edge against Rabada for six and a scrambled single to slip that ended with four more overthrows.
It was incredibly tense, with the crowd urging the bowlers to get in that one glory ball which eventually never came. Fittingly a glide to third man, very similar to Arjuna Ranatunga’s winning shot against Australia in the 1996 World Cup final, gave Sri Lanka the famous victory. You cannot grudge the Sri Lanka fans for celebrating the similarity and the familiar hope that accompanied that Ranatunga shot – that this will change Sri Lanka’s fortunes once again.
A memorable Test match with a fairy tale ending and an innings that will be remembered by all cricket fans. But most importantly, it was a match and knock that gives hope to a nation that is currently down in the dumps.
Dare to dream and believe again.
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