When David Warner was banned from the 2018 Indian Premier League following the ball-tampering fiasco, Kusal Perera was approached by the Sunrisers Hyderabad to replace the Australian. The Sri Lankan – an unorthodox top-order dasher – turned down the lucrative offer. Quite simply, he said, he wanted to play himself back into his country’s Test side. Now, he may well have a spot for life.
Each individual possesses their own criteria for the constitution of greatness. It’s built around subjective intangibility. There can be no definitive right answer, but Perera might have taken us to the edge of inarguable perfection as can be achieved.
While it remains a singularly impossible category to judge, for my money, there has never been a better Test innings than Perera’s in Durban. It was as bold, daring, courageous, skilful and as utterly and unfathomably illogical as has been seen in Test cricket. Bottle it up and inject it into the veins of everyone. Nuts. Bloody nuts.
It was Dale Steyn, and then it was Vernon Philander, and then it was Kagiso Rabada, and then it was Duanne Olivier – taker of 24 wickets in three Tests against Pakistan, and then it was Keshav Maharaj, and then it was Steyn again. Nobody was spared.
And all the time, Perera, a man averaging almost two sixes per first-class match across his career, watched partners come and go. Only two of seven lasted more than 30 deliveries. He saw Oshada Fernando and Niroshan Dickwella fall in the space of three balls, before Dhananjaya de Silva and Suranga Lakmal departed one after another.
By definition, the notion of greatness warrants illogic. What separates the norm from its opposite is an act of defiance that goes against what is meant to be plausible.
Until a week ago, Perera had passed 50 four times in Tests, but not since 2016. Zimbabwe apart, he had not done so not since his 2015 debut against India; he had been left out of the side for the series against England. Since making 62 against Zimbabwe in Harare, he had made 134 runs in 10 Test innings.
You would have been laughed out of the room at the very thought of 153 swashbuckling, unbeaten runs, almost half of which came in an unbroken partnership of 78 with Vishwa Fernando – a man with a Test batting average of 2.75. It will be a stand for the ages.
And while Fernando was plucky, valiant and no less heroic, Perera’s fireworks lack any precedent. There have been many great knocks, certainly many of greater numerical value, but to argue that there has been anything quite so disobedient in the face of logic implies that there is evidence to the contrary.
One of Test cricket’s great worries has long been that a dangerously regimented status quo has evolved. Kusal Perera isn’t meant to do that to Dale Steyn. Sri Lanka aren’t meant to do that to South Africa. And yet, it happened. It had to be seen to be believed, and even then, it had to be seen again.