A contender for game of the Cricket World Cup has seen Sri Lanka come away with a thrilling 20-run upset win over England at Headingley.
One Kusal spelt trouble for South Africa in the first Test but two Kusals spelt double trouble as Sri Lanka stunned the hosts and the rest of the cricketing world to pull off a sensational series victory in Port Elizabeth against all odds.
After Kusal Janith Perera led the heroics by snatching victory from the jaws of certain defeat in Kingsmead, Durban, Kusal Mendis and debutant Oshada Fernando made a mockery of what appeared to be a batsmen’s nightmare track in Port Elizabeth to effortlessly guide Sri Lanka to a historic 2-0 series triumph in front of a shocked South African following.
Followers worldwide reflected on their dismal performances in New Zealand and Australia were left in wonderment at the miraculous form reversal.
All the doomsayers who condemned this team for lack of technique and temperament – including yours truly – were left dumfounded as the brave lads from Lanka capably led by new skipper Dimuth Karunaratne displayed fight rather than fright to stage a commendable come from behind effort that sent them into the annals of history.
Not only did they win the series, but they also recorded just their third win on the African continent while becoming the first Asian team to win a series there and the only the third team to beat the South Africans on home soil.
Only two other teams – England and Australia – have secured series wins in South Africa before.
Sri Lanka’s first win ever in South Africa was under Tillakaratne Dilshan in the 2011-12 series in which current skipper Karunaratne was a member of the squad that went down 1-2 to the hosts.
It was a titanic tussle between the relatively unknown Sri Lankans fresh from a forgettable drubbing in Australia and New Zealand and the cocky hosts who are ranked number two in the World and appeared to take their opponents as a walk in the park prospect.
Although they refused to admit it, the approach proved to be a mindset they will regret for many years to come as they recall the pain and humiliation inflicted on them by the smarting Lankans seeking some form of redemption.
There is no doubt that luck played a big part in Sri Lanka’s success as they pulled off a Houdini like escape in the first Test, then folded like a deck of cards in their first dig of the second Test before Kusal Mendis and youngster Oshada Fernando rode their luck and batted with arrogance and authority to make it a thrashing of the home team in the end.
Successful skipper Dimuth Karunaratne admitted after the game that they had made up their minds to do something special for the suffering fans who endured the torture of their substandard performances in Australia.
“We learnt a lot from those defeats and were able to address our weakness against the rising ball. And it paid off in this series”, he said.
They showed flamboyance and scant respect for the feared South African attack led by Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada as they raced to the target with carefree abandon and finished proceedings well within three days.
After Sri Lanka’s bowlers followed up their first Test effort to bowl South Africa out for a mere 222, it appeared like the Lankans euphoria after a shock first Test win had quickly evaporated as the home team struck back by bowling them out for 154.
Newcomer Vishva Fernando and Rajitha grabbed three apiece and Dhananja De Silva got two to keep the lankan dream of a series win alive.
Down but not out, Sri Lanka struck back swiftly as Suranga Lakmal, 4 for 39 an Dhanjaya De Silva, 3 for 36 with Rajitha, 2 for 20 wrought havoc to skittle the home side for 128 raising hope for an upset if they were up to it needing 197 for a series sweep.
An analysis of the Sri Lankan turnaround appears to suggest that they needed fresh new direction and it came no sooner Chandimal was removed from his role as skipper and the selection role was relieved from coach Hathurusinghe leaving him to concentrate on the team’s performance instead.
Overall, Sri Lanka’s fielding has lifted somewhat under Australian great Steve Rixon and they functioned as a unit backing each other in an effort that appeared lacking on their previous tours.
Reports from Colombo also indicate that the new skipper’s stand on persisting with Lakmal and Kusal Mendis in the team against some selection committee members who insisted on them being omitted proved to be the ultimate difference.
They have risen from the depths with this great effort and Sri Lankan fans are optimistic that the new direction and a new Sports Minister in Haren Fernando whose focus is on the development of the national team was the tonic they needed to turn things around.