Test cricket the real winner in Sri Lanka's historic triumph over South Africa
The Sri Lankan victory reminded many of their triumph, at this very venue, at Durban, in 2012. It was Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera then who had notched up centuries to create history.
You checked the scorecard and you checked the scorecard again. You were surprised to see that the match was not done and dusted by then. You thought it was just a matter of time. When you checked the scorecard the next time, you started to feel a bit amazed by the fightback that Sri Lanka were showing. Your interest peaked and you kept checking the score at regular intervals and with each passing moment, the disbelief kept shrinking and the belief kept bloating.
Unbelievable is what you said when you saw 'Sri Lanka win by one wicket' in the result column.
Before the series began, nobody gave Sri Lanka a chance. They had suffered a whitewash against England on their home turf and then were no match for New Zealand and Australia in their respective backyards. One was quite certain that in the South African conditions, where the ball swings and seams more than most places, the inexperienced Sri Lankan batting would struggle.
Even after the first day when Sri Lanka was successful in making some early inroads in the South African batting, one had a sense that no matter how small a total the Sri Lankan bowlers succeed in dismissing the Proteas for, their batters would let them down and concede a first innings lead and this is exactly what happened.
Boosted by the lower order fightback led by Quinton de Kock and Keshav Maharaj, South Africa succeeded in posting a respectable score of 235 which is by no means was a small total given the conditions.
Sri Lanka lost Lahiru Thirimanne for a duck and as Dale Steyn settled back into Test cricket, conditions started to look grim for the Lankans once again. Kusal Perera gave the team some hope with a fighting half-century in the middle order but bereft of contributions from other players, the team could not reach even 200 and conceded a 44-run first innings lead which is quite handsome with regard to the context of the match.
The second South African innings brought even worse news for Sri Lanka as Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram got off the team to a good start. It was the 90 from du Plessis along with Quinton de Kock's half-century which would have hurt the most as it took the game away from Sri Lanka. Despite a five-wicket haul from Lasith Embuldeniya and a four-wicket haul from Vishwa Fernando, by the time Sri Lanka came out to bat with a total in excess of 300 to chase, the result had been pretty much decided in the minds of most.
However, keeping in line with its tendency of springing surprises, cricket or Test cricket, to be precise, did not disappoint. Two quick wickets from Dale Steyn broke the back of the Sri Lankan batting but it was Kusal Perera who kept his head and with immense self-belief, determination and skill, he dared to turn things around. He got great support from debutante Fernando who along with Perera stood between victory and defeat. He braved through 27 quizzing deliveries and did not throw his wicket away.
The Sri Lankan victory reminded many of their triumph at this very Durban in 2012. It were Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera then who had notched up centuries to create history. This time it was all about Kusal Perera who did what only some could dare to dream.
"I am bit tired now. I don't know what to say. The lower order supported well. I believed myself in that time, and we did it. Still I am thinking I did my part. This is really special win for us. We did a lot of homework, a lot of hard work," an exhausted but content Kusal Perera said after receiving the Man-of-the-Match award.
This match is right up there along with the classic Test matches of this century. The fact that the sport allowed a thing so remote and almost unattainable to become a reality on the basis of sheer grit and skill is a testament to cricket, it's longevity and the players who partake in it with all their blood and sweat.
©Cricket World 2019