I can’t believe it has happened. Sri Lanka enters the club of stellar away wins in test cricket in the last 6 months by becoming the first Asian team to win a test series in South Africa. Undoubtedly, India’s maiden test series win in Australia pales in comparison to the Island nation’s monumental feat.
To put some context, Sri Lanka had not won a game of cricket across formats since October last year. Their last win was an ODI at home against England with the series already lost. In the next three months, they toured New Zealand and Australia failing to win anything and their performance deteriorating after every outing. Following their whitewash at the hands of Australia early this month, a concerned Marvan Atapattu said to Cricbuzz that he didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. You couldn’t really argue with him on it – Cricket in Sri Lanka has been a Soap-opera in the last 24 months with the deep administrative malaise at its center. And so, this series win would be considered amongst the greatest in the history because it came at Sri Lankan cricket’s rock bottom.
Besides the unlikely timing, a variety of other aspects also make this win the biggest ever upset in the history of test cricket. Firstly, Sri Lanka was playing without at least a dozen of their finest players, including Chandimal and Matthews, either due to injury or poor form. Secondly, they had to play a better part of the 2nd test with 10 men as Lasith Embuldeniya injured his thumb on the first day. And lastly, they conceded a first innings lead and were batting last in both the tests. Certainly, this was more a visitor’s win than a defeat for the Proteas, better teams have traveled there in the last three years and failed.
The biggest talking point of the series has been the single-handed match-winning effort of Kusal Perera in Durban. This hundred is a tribute to his self-belief and tactical awareness. He played the first half of his innings on merit and started playing aggressively once the team lost the eighth wicket. The two sixes over the square leg of Dale Steyn were particularly stunning. Given the circumstances, Perera’s innings is my favorite test batting performance while chasing. It rates higher than Brian Lara’s unbeaten 153 versus Australia in Barbados since it is away from home against one of the strongest bowling attacks in their soil.
Hopefully, this historic win acts as a catalyst for the Island nation, and they return to winning ways. It will be interesting to see how this series affects their performance in the world cup. The 5 match ODI series against the Proteas starting 3rd March will give us a taste of the performance to expect from Sri Lanka in the championship.