Kusal Janith Perera, hailed as the next Sanath Jayasuriya, has finally started living up to the expectations of the selectors and the fans. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the probable future stars for Sri Lanka.
If you have grown up in the 1990s you would have a certain sense of déjà vu if you watch Mathurage Don Kusal Janith Perera bat: having modelled himself on the rather unconventional technique of Sanath Jayasuriya, Perera made a name as one of the most dangerous young Sri Lankan batsmen of the era.
Perera has not played a Test, but averages 46.74 with a strike rate of 84.67 in First-Class cricket. Seven hundreds and eight fifties from 56 innings tell a lot of his scoring. To put things into perspective, AB de Villiers has a strike rate of 56.63 (First-Class strike rates are not readily available for batsmen of a slightly earlier era). The fact that he can keep wickets simply added to his credentials.
He had toured Australia as a member of the One-Day International (ODI) side for the 2012-13 series. He broke through when Kumar Sangakkara was injured, playing unbeaten cameos in easy run-chases in consecutive matches at Adelaide and The Gabba. They were not long in duration, but the international audience realised why he was hailed as the new Jayasuriya.
The unstoppable short-arm pulls, the bazookas that flew over the fence (whether off the front-foot or the back-foot) whenever there was room on offer outside the off-stump, and that extraordinary ability to accelerate at will that so characterised the man who had revolutionised ODIs in the 1990s were back: the only thing that was missing from the batting was Tony Greig’s frantic exclamation: “They’re dancing down the aisles of Sharjah!”
After a string of decent performances against Bangladesh in ODIs and T20Is (and an offer from Rajasthan Royals) Perera’s innings went through a steady decline: he scored 62 from nine innings across both formats against New Zealand and South Africa, and it seemed that Perera would be lost in the wilderness like many a great promise.
The selectors were not impressed. Perera was made to sit out for the entire home ODI series against the Kiwis. His potential, however, had convinced the selectors to pick him for the T20I at Pallekele.
Sri Lanka lost Mahela Jayawardene early after they were set 143 for a win. Dinesh Chandimal promoted Perera above Sangakkara, Angelo Matthews, himself, and the dangerous Thisara Perera. Kusal hit the second ball he faced over long-on for a six, hit another for a straight six a few balls later, and had raced to 21 off the first ten balls.
Perera’s blitz eventually ended after a 37-ball 51 as he reduced Tillakaratne Dilshan to a mere spectator. It was neither the score nor the strike rate that won him the Man of the Match award: it was possibly the Sanathesque way in which he biffed his way to guide his side to victory.
Two matches later – earlier this month – Perera won the Man of the Match again – this time to level the T20I series against Pakistan at Dubai. The 59-ball 84 included five fours and four sixes, and the third-wicket partnership with Sangakkara yielded 78 runs in 37 balls.
Two awards in three T20Is won him the opener’s slot in ODIs on the same tour. Once again, he kept Sri Lanka in the fight in the first match at Sharjah with a 68-ball 64, but Sri Lanka lost the match. It was followed by a couple of failures, but he fought back in the fifth match earlier today at Abu Dhabi.
Perera carted the strong bowling attack for a 41-ball 47 with three fours and four sixes; fleeting memories of Jayasuriya must have appeared before the eyes of Shahid Afridi (who was being rested) and Javagal Srinath (the match referee) as he outscored Dilshan comfortably in a 75-run opening stand off 74 balls.
Some frantic batting towards the end from Chandimal and Ajantha Mendis eventually sealed the match for Sri Lanka, but there was no doubt whatsoever that the Jayasuriya clone was quickly making his way through the ranks. With the careers of Mahela, Sanga, and Dilshan all reaching their fag ends, Perera might just be the man Sri Lankan cricket would look forward to blast the oppositions out in the shorter formats of the game.
Staying up till midnight somewhere in the island nation, Jayasuriya himself might be smiling at the revival of Perera’s career. So are we, the lovers of the sport all around the world.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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