More than just a pinch-hitter, in Kusal Perera Sri Lanka have a genuine match-winner

Kusal Perera produced yet another match-winning knock for Sri Lanka, top-scoring with 78 in their thrilling victory against Afghanistan at the World Cup.

Kusal Perera

Kusal Perera is well used to holding Sri Lanka’s batting together. Back in February, the pugnacious left-hander played one of the great Test innings in Durban to steer his side to an improbable one-wicket victory — a result that set the platform for Sri Lanka to become the first Asian country to win a Test series in South Africa.

He finished on a career-best 153 not out in a scarcely-believable Test finish, and his last-wicket stand of 78 with Vishwa Fernando was the highest of all time in a successful chase. In only his second one-day international back in 2013, Perera, then only 22, got Sri Lanka over the line in a low-scoring thriller at the Gabba against Australia with a gritty 22 not out in a winning total of 75/6.

Watch Highlights: Kusal Perera 153* vs South Africa, 1st Test, Durban, 2019

Against Afghanistan at Cardiff Wales Stadium, Sri Lanka’s wicket-keeper was moved one place up the order to open with the skipper Dimuth Karunaratne, with whom he enjoyed a second-wicket stand of 42 in the opening match defeat to New Zealand.

And that decision looked well justified when Perera set about Hamid Hassan in the second over of the match, pulling his first ball for four and smashing the fourth straight back past the bowler.

The openers took full advantage of Afghanistan’s wayward start with the ball. Their punchy start of 79 without loss from the first ten overs was this tournament’s most prolific Powerplay and their opening stand of 92 was Sri Lanka’s highest in the five ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup tournaments held in the UK.

Watch Highlights: Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, World Cup, 2019

At drinks Sri Lanka were 109 for no wicket from 16 overs and in the ascendancy. The game looked to be going only one way.

They seemed to be regaining all the confidence that had drained away during their dismissal for 136 against New Zealand last weekend, not to mention the nine previous ODIs of which only one against Scotland had been a victory.

When Perera brought up his fifty with an imposing drive over cover off Afghan skipper Gulbadin Naib, he had failed to score from only 13 off his 42 deliveries.

But in the space of 11 crazy deliveries – when they lost four wickets for five runs – Sri Lanka’s impressively and entertainingly rebuilt self-esteem started to crumble.

Perera hung in there but he too was fighting a losing battle against Afghanistan’s skilful spinners.

He hit his eighth and final boundary off his 45th delivery – just three balls after he had reached his half-century. He would face 36 more balls without once finding the fence.

Still there were hopes for Sri Lankan fans that he might carry his bat and get his side past 200 beyond.

But, on 78, he was the eighth man out after he tried to reverse-sweep a Rashid Khan googly and succeeded only in gloving the ball to the keeper, Mohammad Shahzad.

Perera’s latest attempt at flying solo for his country had come to a disappointing end, and to add insult to the disappointment, the rain came soon after his departure.

When Sri Lanka’s innings closed on 201 after the break for rain, Perera’s contribution was thrown into even sharper relief by the fact that the next top score was extras with 35.

At that stage, the sense was that Perera’s effort was more of a face-saving exercise than a glorious match-winning one.


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