Sri Lanka pulled off an astounding against-the-odds run chase with 153 not out by Kusal Perera and a record last-wicket partnership of 78 to beat South Africa by one wicket in the first cricket test on Saturday.
Perera almost single-handedly won the game but No. 11 batsman Vishwa Fernando played a crucial role as he hung around for 27 balls for his 6 not out to allow Perera, with nothing to lose, to throw caution to the wind at the other end and ultimately take Sri Lanka charging home.
After the match South African captain Faf du Plessis said “I thought Perera was unbelievable, A superman effort. He deserves all the accolades that will come to him after this game.
“We can go back and try and figure out where it went wrong and what we did wrong and what we could have done better but, end of the day, it was an amazing batting performance.”
Chasing an unlikely 304, Sri Lanka was 226-9 and looked out of it at Kingsmead with the 10th wicket an apparent formality.
But Perera and Fernando had other ideas and carried the inexperienced tourists — written off at the start of the series — to a thrilling victory on the fourth day. Even Dale Steyn and top-ranked test bowler Kagiso Rabada couldn’t break their last stand.
Perera scored 67 of those 78 runs for the last wicket and fittingly won it with a late cut down to the boundary for four, prompting Sri Lankan players to sprint from the dressing room out onto the field to congratulate their match winner. Perera removed his helmet and thrust both arms up in the air to celebrate one of the best innings ever by a Sri Lankan, and one of the team’s most remarkable victories.
Perera batted for more than five hours over two days — Sri Lanka was 52-3 when he arrived at the crease — to set up the highest successful run chase ever for Sri Lanka away from home. He hit 12 fours and five sixes in his second test century and first in three years.
“I’m a bit tired now,” Perera said. “Especially good effort as a team, especially the lower-order batsmen there giving me support.”
The partnership between Perera and Fernando was a record for the highest 10th-wicket partnership to win a test. The previous best was 57 by Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed for Pakistan against Australia 25 years ago.
The 304-9 was also the third-highest successful run chase in nearly 100 years of test cricket at the Kingsmead ground in Durban.
And Sri Lanka’s scintillating victory gave it a 1-0 lead in the short two-test series and ended South Africa’s run of seven straight home series wins in dramatic fashion.
Sri Lanka had lost their last three series coming into this contest and had two debutants and a new captain for the first test, and two other bowlers with just seven tests between them. Fernando was one of those two bowlers new to test cricket. He collected eight wickets with the ball in the match before becoming an unlikely hero with the bat.
Sri Lanka’s inexperience and recent form meant few people gave the visiting team a chance against South Africa, which has won every series it has played at home for the last three years.
And almost nobody thought victory would be possible when South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj had Kasun Rajitha lbw for 1 to leave Sri Lanka 226-9.
At the time, Perera was on 86 but decided it was all or nothing.
He crunched all five of his sixes in the game-winning last-wicket stand, which lasted one ball short of 16 overs. Perera’s last 67 runs to take him to his century and then past 150 came off just 68 balls in a brilliant last-gasp effort.
“I think this young team needed this kind of a win,” Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha said. “This is outstanding. We never saw it coming.”
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