Durban: Kusal Perera played the innings of a lifetime and pulled off a miracle victory for Sri Lanka on Saturday, scoring 153 not out off 200 balls, as the visitors beat the hosts by 1 wicket to take an unbeatable 1-0 lead in the two-match Test series in Durban.
Chasing a daunting target of 304, the Lankans were reduced to 83 for 3 on Day 3 and had lost half their side at 110 on the fourth day when Kusal Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva joined forces to add 96 runs for the sixth wicket.
De Silve departed on 48 but Perera carried on and batted smartly with the tail-enders to take Sri Lanka closer to the target.
He brought up his second Test hundred in just 146 deliveries in the 74th over of the fourth innings and went on to cross his highest score of 112 with a six to reach 112 with Sri Lanka needing 52 runs at that stage. The shot also took the team past 250.
His last wicket partnership with Vishwa Fernando had reached 26 runs by then with Perera scoring all the runs while the latter didn’t even open his account for 15 deliveries.
The Proteas strangely decided not to take the second new ball after the 80-over mark by which time Sri Lanka had reached 262, needing another 42 runs to win with Kusal Perera on 120 and Fernando yet to get off the mark after facing 20 deliveries.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis was visibly under pressure by that point and had multiple discussions with veteran fast bowler Dale Steyn who was operating from one end.
After the second meeting with the skipper in the 81st over, Steyn finally decided to take the new ball with one ball left in the over and Fernando on strike, but the latter managed to survive yet again.
With Kagiso Rabada being introduced into the attack, Perera decided to take him on and carried on playing his shots. He was unable to get the strike back in the 83rd over and with Steyn operating with the new ball, Fernando had to survive or find a way to get off strike.
In the second ball of the over, Fernando managed to edge the ball past second slip to collect five runs to get off the mark and get Perera on strike again for the third ball. Against all odds, Perera smacked a six over deep mid-wicket off the fourth ball to bring down the deficit to just 23 runs. The shot also brought up the fifty-run partnership for the final wicket with Fernando scoring just 5 runs from 23 balls.
Perera smashed another two sixes off the next two overs from Steyn and Rabada to take Sri Lanka within touching distance from victory which finally came in the third ball of the 86th over as the left-hander finished the match with his 12th boundary to trigger massive celebrations at the Kingsmead stadium.
Perera and Fernando’s unbroken partnership for the final wicket reached 78 off 95 balls, which is a record for Sri Lanka against South Africa in Test cricket. Fernando just managed 6 runs in the incredible stand. The win was also Lanka’s first in Durban after 7 years.