It could well be argued that South Africa took their eyes off the ball even as the South African captain has described Kusal Perera’s efforts to win Sri Lanka the Kingsmead Test as a ‘superman’ effort. Once again Test cricket has continued to both intrigue and enthrall cricket fans this season, not really letting the ICC Cricket World Cup steal the limelight yet.

Although the fortunes of the first Test between the visitors Sri Lanka and hosts South Africa continued to oscillate through the days of the Durban Test, none could have quite imagined the scenario that gave Sri Lanka an unprecedented lead in an away series, particularly after their shambolic season that even included allowing England the jubilation of a 3-0 series whitewash in the Emerald Isles.

Consumed by scandals about corruption, salacious mudslinging over captaincy that has been a case of musical chairs, and their cricket board in mayhem with the ICC giving them a fifteen day amnesty, Sri Lanka’s cricket could not have sunk lower in recent months. Their on-field performances or rather lack of it and their off-field scandals kept Sri Lanka in the doldrums. Given such a somber situation where Sri Lanka are virtually scraping the bottom of the top league players, it would not have been beyond South Africa to think they could let up just a little bit.

For Sri Lanka to pull off a fourth innings run chase of over 300 runs and to do it needing seventy-eight runs having lost nine of their wickets would have taken a miracle and in the end, it did because despite South Africa having lost Vernon Philander to injury, they still had a fearsome attack in Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier and Keshav Maharaj who rushed through the Sri Lankan line up, a situation that set up expectations of an early result on the fourth day in South Africa’s favour.

Kusal Perera had already shown a semblance of what he was capable of as his half century in the first innings stood out against a Sri Lankan scorecard that looked bleak compared to the fact that South Africa were riding the coat tails of the skipper, Faf du Plessis, and Quinton de Kock to try and push the bar that much farther. On another day, it could well have been South Africa’s given how Sri Lanka have rarely inspired hope in recent times. That Perera even scored sixty-seven of the seventy-eight runs needed when the ninth wicket fell tells of a rather heroic tale of a man who wanted to win and another who was willing to support him in the most unexpected and unusual of settings.

However, an unlikely partnership forged itself with Perera still shy of a century and Vishwa Fernando walking in at the crease, with next to no expectations of him. But on the day, even an unbeaten innings of six runs would be celebrated although he would not know it yet. Perera dominated the strike as well as the South African bowlers, taking calculated chances to clear the boundary ropes as Sri Lanka continued to tease. Perhaps it was only when Sri Lanka needed twenty runs or thereabouts that the reality of Sri Lanka being able to pull off this precarious act with a batting partner who was being shielded for the most part began to really take hold.

Still with just one wicket in hand, Sri Lanka were walking a tightrope and they did so successfully until the very end when Sri Lanka emerged the deserving winners, largely because of Perera who refused to give in, changing tactics and Fernando who decided to stand his ground against all odds. The rare feat has not only kept Sri Lanka standing, an unlikely situation where South Africa must now win in Port Elizabeth to square the series and deny the visitors a rare overseas series win – unimaginable even on Sri Lanka’s previous assignment, but also, has once again kept Test cricket ravenous, hungry and in the headlines, just like it did last week when West Indies pulled off the unthinkable against England.

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