Sri Lanka World Record Partnership Reminds Us Of Test Cricket’s Joys

February 18, 2019

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In a tight game, regardless of the sport, it is rarely easy to control the jitters. The rising heartbeat is a clear indication of the stakes at play, while the urge to chew whatever’s left of one’s nails are subconscious actions. Those on the ground itself are charged by adrenalin, but for spectators at the ground and on the TV, the feeling is exacerbated by the hopelessness. As a neutral or otherwise, it can get agonisingly thrilling.

Cricket, as a sport of numerous moments rather than one free-flowing constant period, can become boring and one-sided at times, and it’s an accusation often levelled at Test cricket. But true connoisseurs of the original format go through match after match, waiting for that one heroic, defiant partnership. For all those who tuned into the first Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka, Kusal Perera was that hero.

Sri Lanka have never been cricketing powerhouses, but they have long had a number of world-class cricketers, whether it be batsman in Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and Sangakkara, or bowlers in Vaas, Muralitharan and Herath. However, that production line has stalled in recent years, and though there is still plenty of talent, it’s neutered by the system and a lack of consistency.

October was the last time Sri Lanka won a match across all three formats, a defeat of England in an ODI series they had already lost 3-0. You have to go back further to July 2018, when South Africa toured, to see a string of victories, so going into Wednesday’s test, there was very little expected from the Islanders, and from the off, it immediately looked to be following script.

Barring Perera’s fighting 51, the first innings’ batting provided little in the way of fight, and despite debutant Ambuldeniya hastening a Proteas lower order collapse of 5-8, a target of 304 for the second innings seemed too steep.

Sri Lanka were 110-5 in the chase, and while Dhananjaya de Silva partnered Perera, his dismissal at 206-6 sparked another mini-collapse. Vishwa Fernando walked in at nine down with 78 left to go. He reassured Kusal, “Don’t worry. I’ll hit the ball with my body, if nothing else.” And so it was left to a bowler in his fourth Test and an embattled middle order survivor to fight for the nation.

78 runs. Perera took blows on the body. Fernando managed to keep the ball out, simply surviving, his only remit at the crease. As Dale Steyn roared in, they held their ground. South Africa’s tactics were questionable; they allowed Perera to farm strike easily and take singles off the penultimate ball, leaving Fernando to play one ball an over, and though they didn’t have Philander on day four, with four excellent bowlers it shouldn’t have mattered. The game reached the point where the target was 34 runs. But all it takes is one great ball, one mistake from the batsman, and the dream is shattered.

82nd over, second ball. Fernando got an outside edge to third slip, and there’s a miscommunication with the single. He scampers, Elgar collects and throws at the non-strikers. Hearts stop for a millisecond. The throw missed the stump and ran away for four overthrows, cue massive exhales; Fernando was off the mark in the only way this match could deem fit. Then people started to imagine the impossible. Perera smashed Steyn over square leg for six, he top-edged Rabada over fine leg for six, and then had the cojones to nonchalantly dismiss a fuming Steyn over square leg for six again. All three sixes came on the fourth ball of three consecutive overs. By this point, he had enough trust in his partner, and was in control of the pace. South Africa had no answer to his acceleration.

Remember Edgbaston 2005. Even the bravest of comebacks can end in agony. But not today, said Perera, steering Rabada past first slip with four runs to win. As he hit it, he knew, and as he knew, we knew. A punch of the first, helmet removed, soaking in the moment. And cricket fans around the world rejoiced in an innings of a kind. Against the odds, battling the team’s form, facing one of the world’s best attacks, Perera pulled off a masterclass, timing the chase to perfection. He took off when many would retreat into a cautious shell. He wore blows on the body, he counter-attacked, he maintained the dream. Along the way, while delivering an epochal innings, he gave his nation joy in a sport that they have rarely enjoyed in recent months.

There are numerous statistics summing up the magnitude of this result. The final-wicket partnership of 78* broke the previous Test record of 57 set in 1994 – and pipped the first-class record of 77 set in 1935. It was the first one-wicket Test win since VVS Laxman took India to victory in Mohali in 2010. And eerily, Perera’s 153* reflected his fellow southpaw Brian Lara’s 153* in a one-wicket win in 1999.

It is not those facts that will last far more in the memory. What you’ll remember are the heroic elements of that case. Fernando played a knock every No 11 dreams of, with every six runs proving crucial, every ball played proving effective. Thanks to the duo, Test Cricket got another ratification of its standing as the best format of the game. Such drama amidst a myriad of circumstances cannot be manufactured. If ever we lose track of that fact, the sheer ecstasy on Perera’s face should remind us otherwise.

Thank you, Kusal Perera and Vishwa Fernando, for a partnership full of heart that reminded us all why we love cricket so much.

In other news

  • While we’re on the theme of cricketing resurgence, West Indies’ dismantling of England was a throwback to the good times in the past. The first two Tests were refreshingly startling in the way the West Indies pace armada rolled over England, led by Kemar Roach’s 5-17. But even the 77 all out was outdone by Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder, who scored a frankly unbelievable 202*. From 120-6, the duo took them to 415-6. Royston Chase then took 8-60 to send England to a 381 run loss. The second Test was as one-sided, resulting in a 10-wicket win. England did win the third to lose the series 2-1, but it did little to take the shine from the West Indies triumph.
  • The Big Bash League is finally over. Two results that struck me were Brisbane Heat chasing down 157 runs in ten overs, and Melbourne Stars’ South Africa-esque choke in the final against city rivals Melbourne Renegades. They lost seven wickets for 19 runs, throwing away what was an easy catch. Never write off the team batting first in a T20 final.
  • Vidarbha have now won both the Ranji Trophy and the Irani Cup in 2018 and 2019; kudos to their consistency under head coach Chandrakant Pandit. The trick is going past two consecutive wins, an achievement by three other teams in the last ten years
  • It’s quite incredible that the likes of Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shannon Gabriel made racist and homophobic comments in recent games. Both got the requisite punishment; (though both will be back for the Cricket World Cup), Gabriel accepting his with more grace than Ahmed. They may have lost their sense in the heat of the moment, but it is unacceptable nevertheless. It was good to see Joe Root making a strong statement in response then. The usage of stump mics is debatable, but it should be here to stay for now.

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Author: Rahul Warrier

Rahul is a freelance football writer, having delved into writing in 2015. Based in Singapore, he is a senior writer at These Football Times. His work has also been featured on FourFourTwo, Yahoo Sport, IBWM and MEN among others. He's a football fan, but a cricket enthusiast first.

Twitter @rahulw_

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