Proteas collapse against Sri Lanka

From 226/9, Perera takes his team to an unlikely victory

17 February 2019 - 00:00 By KHANYISO TSHWAKU

Of Sri Lanka's three consecutive Test wins against SA in the past seven months, this one has to be their finest.
While Durban remains their home away from home with this win being their second consecutive one in the city, Sri Lanka's, and more importantly Kusal Perera's, nerve held while SA's and their captain Faf du Plessis's deserted them long before the tense conclusion in an extended fourth afternoon.
Perera's a pocket-rocket and most of the time he bats like one. On this special day for the beleaguered visitors, he essayed what has to be the finest fourth innings ton by a Sri Lankan in an overseas Test.
At best, it wasn't chanceless. A few sprayed cuts nearly went to hand but it contained the level-headedness missing from SA's captain.
At 226/9, after Keshav Maharaj removed Kasun Rajitha (one), Sri Lanka required 78 to win and that's where Perera decided to leave his mark on a Test for the ages.
He scored 72 of the runs himself while last man Vishwa Fernando scored just six and faced just 27 balls as SA's frayed nerves played themselves out during a frantic afternoon session
How Du Plessis let this game slip can only be described as a choke. The game was lost from an eminently winnable position even though Du Plessis was robbed of Vernon Philander's services because of a hamstring problem. Du Plessis credited Perera's superhuman match-winning hand.
"It was an incredible game of cricket, and obviously very disappointing to be on the losing side. Well played to Sri Lanka, Perera was unbelievable; he deserves all the accolades that will come to him.
Our bowlers were pretty good over the last two days, apart from a superhuman effort from Perera. I thought 300 was enough on this wicket, but great batting took it away from us," Du Plessis said.
While Perera's innings was a well thought-out mix of brutal hitting and intelligent strike farming, Du Plessis persisted with giving Perera the bulk of the strike and only the last two balls of the over to Vishwa Fernando.
There weren't any in/out fields that would have forced Perera to hit over the infield and that allowed the southpaw to pick and choose his shots while, significantly, picking out fielders with weak arms that would allow him to shuttle for the all-important twos that unobtrusively whittled down the target.
His shot selection was surgically methodical and he chose his moments to attack with pin-point precision.
His innings contained 12 fours and five sixes, with the hook shots and a delightful pick-up shot off Dale Steyn being the best of the quintet. The significance of Sri Lanka's second Test triumph in Durban wasn't lost on captain Dimuth Karunaratne.
"That was a really good game. We had a tough series in Australia but we learnt well. We have lost a lot of matches in the past few years, so it's a proud moment for us, the team, and for me as captain.
"I think he (Perera) batted really well, getting a hundred in SA is not easy, against this fast bowling attack. Fernando also did a really good job with the ball and then he supported Kusal as well," Karunaratne said.
Sri Lanka bowled themselves into a position where their target wasn't too distant, but was challenging at the same time. A change of ball during SA's second innings allowed them to take five wickets for nine runs.
It was a collapse that not only included Du Plessis's wicket for 90 but saw the hosts cascade from 250/5 to 259 all out.
Perhaps underestimating Sri Lanka's bowling attack that not only missed three of its best fast bowlers but also fielded an untested left-arm spinner on debut, SA fielded six batsmen.
In the bigger scheme, the experiment blew up in their faces as numbers seven to 11 only added 51 and 25 runs in both innings.
The top-order also went missing as Hashim Amla (three and 19) failed again in a Durban Test and Dean Elgar (nought and 35), Aiden Markram (11 and 35) and Temba Bavuma (47 and three) all had unconverted starts.
It meant Du Plessis (35 and 90) and De Kock (80 and 55) did the bulk of the batting heavy lifting and they did so with a fair degree of success. But Sri Lanka's bowling attack, ably led by Suranga Lakmal and Fernando, held their own and made the most of the movement consistently offered by the slow but true Kingsmead surface.
Sri Lanka may have lost wickets in batches through their chase but they always retained their sense of purpose.
They slipped from 42/0 to 52/3 on the third evening before Perera and Oshada Fernando righted the listing ship with a forthright 58-run fourth-wicket stand.
Oshada and Niroshan Dickwella fell within two balls of each other to leave Sri Lanka tottering at 110/5. Through this all, Perera kept a clear head with Dhananjaya de Silva in their 96-run sixth-wicket alliance.
The 206/5 quickly became 226/9 when De Silva (48), Lakmal (nought), Lasith Embuldeniya (one) and Rajitha fell to Maharaj and Duanne Oliver. Perera then pulled out his batting canvas to etch his magnum opus into Sri Lankan Test history.
- Additional reporting AFP and Reuters..

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