Kusal Perera scored 68 an 116 in Sri Lanka's two wins in the ODI series © AFP
Kusal Perera scored 68 and 116 in Sri Lanka’s two wins in the ODI series © AFP

Kusal Perera scored an impressive hundred during the fifth One-Day International (ODI) against Pakistan to win his country a big consolation victory over a dominant Pakistan. Rishad DSouza feels the youngster has found himself belonging at the international level but more daunting tasks lie ahead.

Sri Lanka won just two matches in the five-match ODI series against Pakistan. The one thing common in both those victories was the man who made it possible. Kusal Perera, the youngster touted to be the apt replacement for the legendary Sanath Jayasuriya, won the man of the match award in both games. With the dual retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene following the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Sri Lanka entered a cruel but inevitable phase of transformation. While Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Matthews are players of calibre and more importantly have proven themselves, others in the team had to put up their hands. READ: Sri Lanka gain thumping consolation victory over Pakistan in 5th ODI at Hambantota

Kusal did exactly that during the home series against Pakistan. He showed the world exactly why the selectors stuck with him for long despite averaging in his early 20s. Kusal is an impact player, which is what you would expect from some in Jayasurya’s shoes. However, being called the torchbearer of such a great cricketer, though flattering,  can backfire. The player may take it on him to emulate every aspect of the player he’s being tipped to be the next version of. In the process, strengths are compromised. In such a mindset, the need to adhere to skills gets overshadowed by a compulsive desire to be someone else.

This seemed to be the case with Kusal for a long time. He was so overwhelmed by the title he’d been given, he forgot to be himself. No doubt, Kusal, like Jayasuriya is an impact player. But, they are players of unique styles. Jayasuriya had the ability to attack bowlers right from the first delivery and to sustain the assault until point of decimation or until he got out.  Kusal can also attack bowlers from the very first delivery and the next and the next, but he cannot keep it up through an innings. For him it is essential to sprinkle his natural flair with some caution. READ: Kusal Perera cruises to hundred against Pakistan in 5th ODI at Hambantota

He did exactly that in the final game against Pakistan. Even though he scored at an impressive strike rate, it never appeared as if he was trying something outside his skill set. He was comfortable and at ease with himself. Natural aggression was mindfully combined with timely defence to produce a fine hundred.

The prolonged patience of Sri Lankan selectors in Kusal is finally reaping the fruits they were looking for.  However, Kusal’s trial by fire will be when he tours abroad. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up his newfound poise outside the comforts of familiar home conditions. He has put his hand up to lead Sri Lanka into a new phase and gut instinct suggests that along with Mathews and Dilshan, he will do a fine job of it.

(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RishadDsouza on Twitter)