If ever he succeeds in the position, however, he is capable of ravishing attacks early in the game, and wresting momentum for Sri Lanka before the …
Sri Lanka’s august senior batsmen made 23 collectively, but a 23-year-old’s belligerence ensured his team triumphed nonetheless
When a team has three players of the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan approaching the twilight of their careers, there are bound to be fears about the future. That august trio have nearly 4000 T20I runs between them; against South Africa they made 14, 9 and 0 respectively. That those failures did not extinguish Sri Lanka’s chances of victory was largely down to a 23-year-old named Kusal Perera.
If you have heard Kusal’s name mentioned without that of Sanath Jayasuriya in close proximity you probably weren’t listening hard enough. With his low, southpaw stance and flashing blade, particularly in a wristy ability to clip the ball off his pads, Kusal has an uncanny likeness for the man who is now Sri Lanka’s chairman of selectors. Jayasuriya built his reputation with a series of dashing assaults from opener during the 1996 World Cup and Sri Lanka will believe that Kusal can have a similar catalytic effect at this tournament.
T20 continues to push back the limits of the possible in cricket, as anyone who has seen the scorecard from Friday’s afternoon match in Sylhet – let alone the shots played by Netherlands’ batsmen – would know. This match was a more sedate affair, despite the tension at the end, but still it showed how the world has changed, from Kusal’s early assault to the Albie Morkel’s brief dalliance with seeing South Africa home.
Coming into this match, after 11 innings, Perera’s T20 strike rate was a touch under 130 – coincidentally, almost the same as Jayasuriya’s when he retired (eventually) in 2011. Jayasuriya may have been ahead of his time as a batsman, but that does not mean time won’t eventually catch up. Of players to face 500 balls in T20 internationals (Jayasuriya faced 487 despite being indelibly linked to the expansion of one-day cricket a decade or so before) 14 currently score at above 130 per 100 balls, led by Yuvraj Singh at 152.72. Kusal seems likely to join them.
The beefy silhouettes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson and Aaron Finch tower over the World T20 but power comes in different guises. Kusal and, during South Africa’s innings, Quinton de Kock showed that you’ve got to look out for the little guys as well.
The opening over of the match contained most of the ingredients used to spruik the tournament as a non-stop feast for the senses. Dale Steyn, a man who has razed small towns with a 145kph swinging ball, was slapped for two fours and a six – flicked over deep midwicket from outside off – by Kusal, three impudent blows that mocked the senior man.
Steyn bowled wides on both sides, perhaps a little peeved at being buttonholed like this so early on, having only passed a fitness test on the morning of the game. Then Kusal took a single. Dilshan, also coming back from recent injury, is perhaps at the age where he hopes for a little time to limber up before he gets going. Instead he got ripper that clattered through him and into the top of off. Zing went the bails – they really do look good from the stands – and Steyn’s figures read 1-0-17-1 (2w)
|“I think he’s got a bright future ahead. For many years to come he’ll be a dangerous player to bowl to” AB de Villiers on Kusal Perera|
While South Africa worked out what to do with Kusal, they attempted to mitigate the damage he was causing by keeping him off strike. Having faced 16 of the first 24 balls, hitting three fours and two sixes, he was given only 24 of the next 57. Steyn came back – Steyn always comes back – and tested him against the short ball, a top edge landing safely between the bowler and mid-on. Irman Tahir worked further on his patience by pushing his top-spin through wider and Kusal succumbed.
“I think he’s got a bright future ahead. I’m not sure how old he is, but for many years to come he’ll be a dangerous player to bowl to,” South Africa’s stand-in captain, AB de Villiers, said afterwards. “I thought he played really well, put us under pressure from the word go, probably caught Dale by surprise with the first couple of balls, going after him. I don’t think Dale expected that but he recovered really well after.”
The short ball had hinted at a vulnerability and Sri Lanka reported afterwards that Kusal had suffered a blow to the head which required hospital treatment for concussion. But, just as he did last month during a T20 against Bangladesh on the same ground, Kusal had laid the platform for victory. Sri Lanka have played plenty of cricket in this country over the last few weeks and navigated their way around the terrain a little better than South Africa.
Spin proved a little more influential than had been expected, with Sachithra Senanayake and Tahir the most successful bowlers, as pace on the ball merely seemed to help it off the bat. Sri Lanka’s seamers, having been able to size up the pitch from the dressing room, shortened their lengths accordingly – with the exception of Lasith Malinga who dealt with another punkish assault from de Kock with a low-slung yorker and proved himself just too difficult to put away until the final ball, with the match already won.
Ahead of the game, Sri Lanka’s captain, Dinesh Chandimal, was under orders not to talk about the impending retirements of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Afterwards, thanks to Kusal, nobody was.
Kusal Perera‘s well-paced maiden ODI century helped Sri Lanka clinch the ODI series 3-0 and Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said the opener had shown maturity to set up the win in the absence of the team’s senior players.
“Kusal Perera showed lot of maturity today,” Mathews said. “We didn’t have senior guys and someone had to step up. I am glad that he and Dinesh Chadimal did. He doesn’t change his game, at any point. We have always told him to believe in himself and he batted brilliantly.
“We never say anything to any of our batters unless it is absolutely needed. We always told him [Perera] to enjoy and bat the way he does because if he gets the start, he will win more games for us.”
The opener began quietly but opened up with a four and two sixes. However, he did not hit a boundary between the 10th and 23rd overs when Sri Lanka needed to rebuild after quick wickets. Along with Dinesh Chandimal, Perera ensured Sri Lanka were able to control the required run rate in spite of a few quiet overs.
While his first 50 came off 80 balls, the next fifty runs took 38 balls as the batsman surpassed his previous best of 64 against Pakistan. It was also his second fifty-plus score against Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka were also helped by Suranga Lakmal, who bowled the most economical spell of his 21-match ODI career. He gave away 24 runs and took two wickets, and his use of the crease, lengths and change of pace were apt in all situations.
“Suranga [Lakmal] was brilliant today. I thought he bowled eight overs for eight runs. We didn’t have Lasith Malinga so he had the burden of bowling well and he did exactly that,” Mathews said. “I am very pleased with the way he bowled today, as well as Dinesh Chandimal who ran into good form today.”
According to Mathews, Sri Lanka’s rally from 67 for 8 to an eventually match-winning total of 180 in the first ODI was the turning point of the series.
“We had the fighting spirit,” Mathews said. “When we were 67 for 8, most of you guys would have thought we would have given up the game but we hung in there.
“Thisara [Perera] played a really good knock and from there onwards it was just going on. We always believed in ourselves, believed in our team spirit. We never give up. We are really pleased with the guys.”
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