They were battered in New Zealand, strewn aside in Australia, the captain was benched and a new skipper appointed. They lost the 9th wicket, 78 runs adrift of the total, and yet Sri Lanka won. Kusal Perera stood tall, took on the short ball, was hit on the body, was on his knees, his haunches, grimacing in pain. He stood back again, scored a century and then opened the face of the bat to a length ball outside off to seal an epic win for his side.
His arms were aloft, there was no pain then, and as the rest of the players came rushing out, Ottis Gibson was in his chair looking elsewhere; this match was South Africa's to lose, and they lost it. Sri Lanka scripted an amazing heist and go one up in the 2-match series.
South Africa were without Vernon Philander but had enough firepower to inflict damage on a jittery Sri Lankan-batting order, but in Perera, they found a batsman willing to hold fort and take his side over the line.
"I am bit tired now," Kusal says [he looks exhausted]. "I don't know what to say. The lower order supported well. I believed myself in that time, and we did it. Still I am thinking I did my part. This is really special win for us. We did a lot of homework, a lot of hard work," he said after the match.
It was the bowlers who instilled this belief after they took 5 wickets for 8 runs late last night. Set a target of 304, Sri Lanka looked to be in control when Dhananjaya de Silva tried to mow Keshav Maharaj over deep mid-wicket and perished. Two more wickets fell and then another, but Vishwa Fernando stuck it out for 27 balls and allowed Perera to pull off one of the most memorable chases in Test history.
Well, and right on cue, Twitter erupted - Test cricket is not dead, they claimed and no one was shaking their head:
KUSAL PERERA! Remember the name. one of the greatest Test wins of alltime. one of the lifetime innings. what a win for the young Sri Lanka against all odds. Incredible teams effort. a Test captaincy debut to remember for Dimuth. Test cricket at it's absolute best. @IamDimuth ??— Daniel Alexander (@daniel86cricket) February 16, 2019
Kusal Perera today redefined test cricket with his resilience and determination! Just when you thought the gentleman's game was lost in the blitzkrieg of fast paced action, here's an innings showing that none can match up to the class of Tests!Take a bow,you superhuman! #SAvSL— TS Singh Deo (@TS_SinghDeo) February 16, 2019
That may be THE GREATEST Test innings by a Sri Lankan ever.— Andrew Fidel Fernando (@afidelf) February 16, 2019
Rockstar attack to face down. Impossible odds. Fourth innings. Away from home. Batting with the tail.
Belief. Determination. Skill. Smarts. Those ridiculous sixes.
It ticks every single box.
That was one of the most incredible passages of cricket I've seen. Kusal Perera rockets into the catalogue of greatest Test innings. The record for highest 4th-innings 10th-wicket stand to win a Test has been smashed. Was 57, now 78.— Andy Zaltzman (@ZaltzCricket) February 16, 2019