South Africa v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong

Kusal salvo hides seniors' foibles

Sri Lanka's august senior batsmen made 23 collectively, but a 23-year-old's belligerence ensured his team triumphed nonetheless

Alan Gardner in Chittagong

March 22, 2014

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Kusal Perera exhibits a pull shot, South Africa v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong, March 22, 2014
Beware the little guy: Kusal's 61 off 40 was the foundation for Sri Lanka's win © Getty Images

When a team has three players of the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan approaching the twilight of their careers, there are bound to be fears about the future. That august trio have nearly 4000 T20I runs between them; against South Africa they made 14, 9 and 0 respectively. That those failures did not extinguish Sri Lanka's chances of victory was largely down to a 23-year-old named Kusal Perera.

If you have heard Kusal's name mentioned without that of Sanath Jayasuriya in close proximity you probably weren't listening hard enough. With his low, southpaw stance and flashing blade, particularly in a wristy ability to clip the ball off his pads, Kusal has an uncanny likeness for the man who is now Sri Lanka's chairman of selectors. Jayasuriya built his reputation with a series of dashing assaults as opener during the 1996 World Cup and Sri Lanka will believe that Kusal can have a similar catalytic effect at this tournament.

T20 continues to push back the limits of the possible in cricket, as anyone who has seen the scorecard from Friday's afternoon match in Sylhet - let alone the shots played by Netherlands' batsmen - would know. This was a more sedate affair, despite the tension at the end, but still it showed how the world has changed, from Kusal's early assault to Albie Morkel's brief dalliance with seeing South Africa home.

Coming into this match, after 11 innings, Perera's T20 strike rate was a touch under 130 - coincidentally, almost the same as Jayasuriya's when he retired (eventually) in 2011. Jayasuriya may have been ahead of his time as a batsman, but that does not mean time won't eventually catch up. Of players to face 500 balls in T20 internationals (Jayasuriya faced 487 despite being indelibly linked to the expansion of one-day cricket a decade or so before) 14 currently score at above 130 per 100 balls, led by Yuvraj Singh at 152.72. Kusal seems likely to join them.

The beefy silhouettes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson and Aaron Finch tower over the World T20 but power comes in different guises. Kusal and, during South Africa's innings, Quinton de Kock showed that you've got to look out for the little guys as well.

The opening over of the match contained most of the ingredients used to spruik the tournament as a non-stop feast for the senses. Dale Steyn, a man who has razed small towns with a 145kph swinging ball, was slapped for two fours and a six - flicked over deep midwicket from outside off - by Kusal, three impudent blows that mocked the senior man.

Steyn bowled wides on both sides, perhaps a little peeved at being buttonholed like this so early on, having only passed a fitness test on the morning of the game. Then Kusal took a single. Dilshan, also coming back from recent injury, is perhaps at the age where he hopes for a little time to limber up before he gets going. Instead he got ripper that clattered through him and into the top of off. Zing went the bails - they really do look good from the stands - and Steyn's figures read 1-0-17-1 (2w)

"I think he's got a bright future ahead. For many years to come he'll be a dangerous player to bowl to" AB de Villiers on Kusal Perera

While South Africa worked out what to do with Kusal, they attempted to mitigate the damage he was causing by keeping him off strike. Having faced 16 of the first 24 balls, hitting three fours and two sixes, he was given only 24 of the next 57. Steyn came back - Steyn always comes back - and tested him against the short ball, a top edge landing safely between the bowler and mid-on. Irman Tahir worked further on his patience by pushing his top-spin through wider and Kusal succumbed.

"I think he's got a bright future ahead. I'm not sure how old he is, but for many years to come he'll be a dangerous player to bowl to," South Africa's stand-in captain, AB de Villiers, said afterwards. "I thought he played really well, put us under pressure from the word go, probably caught Dale by surprise with the first couple of balls, going after him. I don't think Dale expected that but he recovered really well after."

The short ball had hinted at a vulnerability and Sri Lanka reported afterwards that Kusal had suffered a blow to the head which required hospital treatment for concussion. But, just as he did last month during a T20 against Bangladesh on the same ground, Kusal had laid the platform for victory. Sri Lanka have played plenty of cricket in this country over the last few weeks and navigated their way around the terrain a little better than South Africa.

Spin proved a little more influential than had been expected, with Sachithra Senanayake and Tahir the most successful bowlers, as pace on the ball merely seemed to help it off the bat. Sri Lanka's seamers, having been able to size up the pitch from the dressing room, shortened their lengths accordingly - with the exception of Lasith Malinga who dealt with another punkish assault from de Kock with a low-slung yorker and proved himself just too difficult to put away until the final ball, with the match already won.

Ahead of the game, Sri Lanka's captain, Dinesh Chandimal, was under orders not to talk about the impending retirements of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Afterwards, thanks to Kusal, nobody was.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (March 24, 2014, 3:39 GMT)

Thissara Perera is a MUST-HAVE in T20 and 50 over cricket. He has the ability to hit the ball out of the ground! I was watching him during the Big Bash here in Australia, and he destroyed bowlers, clearing the fence regularly.

He should be left at 7, but if only a few wickets have fallen and there are only a few overs to go, then he can be utilised as a pinch-hitter. He is undoubtedly the biggest hitter in the Sri Lankan team.

Posted by DreamCricketer on (March 24, 2014, 1:30 GMT)

DreamCricketer: Congrats! SL and Thanks to Kusal and Angelo we won the match. What are the BIG 3 doing?? Not sure why they call them big 3 Have they just gone for a tour to watch others play?

Posted by SriLankanYoungBlood on (March 23, 2014, 8:43 GMT)

It's crazy SLFans suggesting dropping kusal and thisara from the side and allow underperformed Senior like Dilshan to play whole series. Both r 2 Real T20 batsmen in the side. @Chandana Fonseka @Suddaththa It u don't know T20 cricket please let you mouth shut. With out Thisara and Kusal Our Side will get lost from side like UAE,HongKong. 150 runs will be impossible target to get. Sekuge is also T20 player but can't compare with Thisara.

Posted by LeoE on (March 23, 2014, 7:34 GMT)

@Suddaththa -I can understand why you want Thissara Perera dropped. But he is a better bowler than Prasanna. He is in very good form right now. Against SA he was slightly off length, but he will recover. As a batter who can easily win a match on his own, as when he scored 70 odd recently in the Asia Cup, he should be made to face more balls. The top order players get thirty to forty balls each, but he gets only 9. With SL having such a strong batting line up, he comes at No. 7. Why not make him open the batting with Kusal and drop everyone down by one notch. Dilshan, Mahela and Sanga cannot score as fast as Thissara. Lets give him a chance. The opposition will feel threatened with such a deadly opening pair.

Posted by android_user on (March 23, 2014, 7:12 GMT)

Everybody praises Kusal & indeed its true.and he deserves it more than anyone else. But Also for yesterday's win we must give the same credits to Angi for taking us to a reasonable score and to Kula for his death over

Posted by SriLankanYoungBlood on (March 23, 2014, 6:03 GMT)

Last year or so Kusal save 3 seniors as well as SL T20 team. 80% SL T20 wins he is Man of Match. Because of win SL fans forget Big 3's Failures and Average SL fan like me insist their failure. Last year or so no T20 match wining inning from either Senior. Dilshan is hugh burden to SL T20 team while MJ and Sanga not best in their T20 form. Even though they played 30's-40's their SR is low. But Both have 2 Years Test Career and ODI Career until 2015 WC.

Posted by sudaththa on (March 23, 2014, 5:51 GMT)

Sanath... This is for u... Think about Thisara.. Drop him from the side.. He is not doing well.. See Nuwan Kulasekara.. He is doing 100./. To team.. Drop thisara and bring in young guy to the side... Sikkuge Prasanna is there....

Posted by s.g.a. on (March 23, 2014, 4:51 GMT)

@ vinod villa pudasun are u not seen, not known much about game of cricket, also u never know about good captains, u know about chandimal only. u blaming other players that is unfair, They did lot for SL cricket. don't think only this game. just think about recent performans of the players. chandimal stiil fail. u know kulay performing better than chandimal even his batting. so how u saying chandimal is the best batsman. i know when he entered the team he perfomed well. but now recent past he is fail, that' s why he dropped in asia cup. because of captaincy still he survived in the team. In t20 SL still in no.1, because others performing not captain, T20 captaincy also should get Angelo.He is one of best allrounder in world cricket.

Posted by NALINWIJ on (March 23, 2014, 3:23 GMT)

Kusal is a great prospect in the future in all formats of the game. He may look like and have some of the shots of Sanath but he is technically a more correct batsman than Sanath at the same age possibly because he went to Royal and Sanath received limited coaching in Matara. I feel Dilshan is approaching the twilight of his career. Sanga and Mahela who are still good but will ease into retirement after 2015 world cup. Chandimal has not taken the baton as the next big thing and Thirimanne may prove to be a possible replacement for the greats. SL T20 batting is nothing special and it is the bowling and fielding that is winning the matches. Dew factor is blunting the spinners and this will hurt limit SL strength and destroy Bangaladesh and give Australia a better chance.

Posted by   on (March 23, 2014, 3:17 GMT)

@s.g.a don't you watch the match yesterday?? or just blind chandimal h@ter? he was our best batsman after kusal and mathews..what thisara did? poor bowler,poor fielding also can't bat when bowlers balling out side off stump! what about dilshan?? poor form but only talk chandiml because his score was 12 but it was 4th highest in SL inning! He give ball to mendis and get the Albie's wicket! it was the changing moment of the match! it was the best captaincy moment and even commentators appreciate that but you telling it was poor captaincy! don't be biased and hate 1 player!

Posted by android_user on (March 23, 2014, 3:11 GMT)

its best to give the T20 captaincy to Anji. Chandimals T20 average and SR don't do justice to the players on benches waiting for an opportunity

Posted by miles100 on (March 23, 2014, 3:00 GMT)

@s.g.a. - Chandimal is a good captain and very good batsman.His batting will only improve once gain after he becomes a top order batsman (No:4 ideally) after Sanga and Mahela retire. For his age he is doing a better job than even all the senior captains. When Chandimal was captaining his school, he never lost a single game. He has some sort of confidence in him. Bringing Mendis for an extra over is a gamble.I agree. I think he did it because they had two new batsmen with a possibility to struggle against spin. It does not mean he is bad captain. I guess we should give him more time.

Posted by VinothSam on (March 23, 2014, 2:54 GMT)

No need to blame Chandi. He is a good caption. Captains are on the field to manage the players not to score much runs. Chandi is on his early captaincy career. He will get through it and make our country proud. Remember how many mistakes Dhoni did on his early captaincy career.

Posted by s.g.a. on (March 23, 2014, 2:29 GMT)

i can't satisfy how SL played yesterday match, see the captain still he cant perform with bat, even in the field he cant manage bowlers,Yesteday angelo performed well with bat & ball both option, He has one more over, but captain did'nt used that. why he continue with mendis. i dont think he is a good captain. He still survived because others performing & win the matches. He knows only jumping when others performing. captain for nothing. But before the captaincy he is performed well for the SL team. selectors should responsible for this. Every one must understand always we cant depend on malinga, mahela sanga & dilshan. like kusal & angelo others also should performed otherwise in this time also it 's a dream.

Posted by Vikum72 on (March 23, 2014, 1:28 GMT)

Weren't it for the slow-motion replays, I don't think anybody would have even realized KJP got hit on the helmet off the bat. He didn't even flinch and didn't give away even the tiniest bit of a moral victory to the bowler. This guy is tough!!!

Posted by   on (March 23, 2014, 0:13 GMT)

Chandimal is a liability period. If you have seen this game with a scrutinizing eyes perhaps you may have realized the game was spearheaded by Mahela. Take Chandi out replace him with Prasanna who is an all-rounder and make Angelo the captain.. Thiri is a good ODI/Test player. Just my two cents...

Posted by android_user on (March 22, 2014, 23:20 GMT)

great article.

Posted by TheKeeper on (March 22, 2014, 22:43 GMT)

Awesome batting KJP! Dale couldn't believe his eyes and Morne couldn't bare to look. Lol. This kid is a proper batsman and having a first-class highest score of 336 there is no reason why he shouldn't be playing test cricket. Pure quality!

Posted by sanathputha on (March 22, 2014, 21:14 GMT)

I think Chndimal should continue as the captain atleast till this tournament is over. Then decision makers can look into the issue with more facts and figures. Captaining a side is not just about being able to score runs. In T20, NOT all batsmen are expected score consistently in every game. Consistency is expected from collective strike rate of the team rather then the individual scores of players. That is why T20 is becoming more of a TEAM game than the other two. Same applies for bowlers as well. Most of the power play and death bowlers sacrifice their individual credibility to others for the sake of the team.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (March 22, 2014, 19:40 GMT)

Srilankans seems to set big for this tournament

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 19:24 GMT)

lot of ppl say drop sanga/mahela - but even if those 2 dont score, the contribute on tactics. dilshan - easy pickings - drop him from the squad.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 18:23 GMT)

@Qaaid Mowlana on (March 22, 2014, 17:06 GMT) I sincerely hope we get our old Chandimal back - the Chandimal who batted aggressively and fearlessly... :( As for his captaincy, I think he did a really good job today, especially that Ajantha Mendis' over, where he changed his fielding position - anticipating what Morkel would do - and took that awesome catch.

Chandi is a good Test and ODI player but hasn't been doing well in T20s, especially after he was appointed the captain - too much pressure taking a toll on his batting, unfortunately. I think Chandimal will come good with the bat in T20s as he matures into the role of captain.

As for Kusal Janith Perera, he's taking bowlers for his dinner, as usual!!! :P Well played young man. Hope KJP gets well soon. :)

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 17:56 GMT)

Looks like SL will win this championship. They are playing with gusto and no one seems strong enough to stand in their way. Will be interesting to see how Australia fares on slow turning pitches. But Kusal slapping Steyn around like a nobody, was a sight to remember. This kid has pluck and his gutsy performance against one of the world's most fearsome tormentors speaks volumes about his talent. This kid will surely be the Island nation's next fearsome lion.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 17:40 GMT)

Kusal's batting made the difference between two teams. Please bat with controlled aggression. Good luck !

Posted by shakeena on (March 22, 2014, 17:10 GMT)

Sri Lanka inherited so many extraordinary players to the world cricket .. Aravinda, Sanath , Murali , Mendis , sanga & Malinga.. with every generation quite a few extraordinary players emerge from Sri Lanka.. The little Kusal will enlighten the Cricketing world so much more in the times to come.. That's for sure.. one day people will speak about a Sanath who played like great kusal janith..

May All mighty bless you and your talents MR. kusal janith perera !!!

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 17:06 GMT)

Chandimal outbatted all three seniors and TP...that's an achievement for him. But in all seriousness, Chandimal has slowly but surely begun to regain his lost form. Looking at him today, i just felt that he came in a little too late. But he seems more positive and confident in the last 2-3 months, is the old Chandimal returning...?

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 17:04 GMT)

Kusal will not deliver in every match. These three oldies could be the reason for their failure in the young man's game. I dont see Dilshan playing like he has in the past nor Jaya-Sanga is the only exception in that list. Mendis with all the hype is no match for Murli and even Herath as far as spin goes

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 16:47 GMT)

They should drop Kusal and bring in Thirimanne. Reason: Kusal is now due for a failure and Dilshan is due for a big score. Plus he should not be playing with a concussion. Save him for later.

Posted by Charindra on (March 22, 2014, 16:42 GMT)

Not sure Kusal should be playing tests just yet. Let him learn a bit more in limited overs cricket and then throw him in to the test arena. And forget Warner, he should idolize Gilchrist. Once Sanga retires he can share wicketkeeping duties with Chandimal. He can open in ODI and T20, and play at 6 in tests.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 16:39 GMT)

It shows why Sri Lanka is the best T20 team. Even with all Dilshan, Mahela, Sanga and even Mendis & Thissara having poor games still able to win. Chandimal failed with the bat again but its expected, but he's a lucky captain

Posted by   on (March 22, 2014, 16:37 GMT)

well played young lad..! he schooled dale stayen and Morne morkel! stunning

Posted by Sinhaya on (March 22, 2014, 15:44 GMT)

So proud of Kusal Perera. He should not go by following Sanath Jayasuriya as he cannot bowl. Kusal Perera must make Dave Warner is idol as Warner is the most consistent of all aggressive batsmen. No doubt Kusal proved that our future is great. He must score more on the off too. Further, he must play tests too as he has the highest individual score by any Lankan in the domestic 3 day format scoring 336 off barely 200 balls. In tests, Kusal can open with Kaushal Silva who can be our great wall whilst Kusal can be our blaster like Warner.

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