When Kusal Perera steered a short ball from Kagiso Rabada to the third man fence, Sri Lanka had sealed history. They had achieved a chase of 304 and won the Kingsmead Test against all odds against a South Africa-side who had not lost a series at home for the last three years. Sri Lanka, for all the pain on and off the field, had achieved the Durban miracle. The kind of shot Kusal Perera prompted one journalist to compare it to the shot Arjuna Ranatunga played off Glenn McGrath in Lahore in the 1996 World Cup to help Sri Lanka win the title for the first time. However, Kusal Perera’s 153 drew comparisons with Brian Lara’s epic 153* which he achieved against Australia in Barbados in 1999.
These two knocks, 20 years apart, has so many similarities. Both West Indies and Sri Lanka won by one wicket. Both batsmen shared partnerships with the tail that got the side to victory. West Indies had lost 0-5 to South Africa and had lost heavily to Australia in the first game in Port of Spain. Sri Lanka lost six out of seven Tests heading into the Durban Test. There was turmoil within the team, with Sri Lanka without Dinesh Chandimal and plenty of pressure on the coaching staff.
With Sri Lanka requiring another 78 runs, Vishwa Fernando joined Kusal Perera with victory only a distant dream. In one memorable exchange in Sinhalese, Vishwa Fernando reassured Kusal Perera that he would be willing to take blows on his body in order to survive and guide Sri Lanka to victory. That seemed to have galvanised Kusal Perera and his calculated approach towards the target was legendary.
The left-hander capitalised on any lengths that the South Africa bowlers missed. Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada, the feared trio of pacers were dealt with harshly by the swag and confidence of Kusal Perera. Every big hit had the stamp of class and aggression. He survived a bit of luck, with a top-edged pull from Rabada sailing over the ropes at fine leg.
When Perera guided the ball to the third man fence, the joy evident among the Sri Lankans was a sight for sore eyes. In Barbados 20 years earlier, Lara’s cover drive off Jason Gillespie to the deep extra cover boundary had sent the entire Windies camp into frenzy.
There are plenty of similarities in the backdrop of which Kusal Perera and Brian Lara played their epic knocks. Be it the number of runs, the margin of victory, the way they got it (although Kusal Perera’s was more flamboyant and the partnership for the final wicket was 78 which is 67 more than the Lara-Walsh partnership) and the broader picture in which they achieved the feat, the knocks by Lara and Kusal Perera galvanised their nations at a time of immense strife.
Lara’s knock, though, proved to be a false dawn as they suffered whitewashes after whitewashes in the subsequent years against most nations. In the case of Kusal Perera and Sri Lanka, one would be hoping that the Durban knock is a point when the country turns their cricketing fortunes around. With so many similarities, one is tempted to say by fate that Sri Lanka could go the West Indies way if they do not channel their energies in the right direction.