Kusal Perera's once-in-a-lifetime 153 not-out, which orchestrated an almost single-handed win over a South Africa much stronger than Perera's Sri Lanka, has become the best innings in 142 years of Test cricket, moving to the top spot in my Golden Willow 25 (GW 25) table of top batting performances.
Perera's innings secured 897.2 rating points, which is about 30 points more than the previous top innings, Graham Gooch's classic 154 at Headingley in 1991 against the mighty West Indies. Perera's innings ticks all the boxes and sits comfortably in top place. The only other innings that has come into the top 25 since this list was originally published in August last year is Cheteshwar Pujara's 123 in Adelaide.
The GW25 is a new list that builds on the Wisden 100 rankings that were released in 2001-02. The current version was unveiled in a series of articles on ESPNcricinfo in mid-2018. The basis is briefly described below. (Click here and here for the two articles on the top 25 batting performances, and here and here for the two articles on the top 25 bowling performances.)
The Batting Performance Ratings are based on the following parameters:
1. Runs scored
2. Bowling quality of the bowlers who bowled in that innings
3. Pitch quality (PQI) across all innings
4. HSI (High-Scoring-Index: indicating the support received and the share of the team score)
5. IPV (Innings-Peer-Value: a ratio with the average of the other 21 innings of team-mates)
6. Runs added with the late order (last five wickets and last two wickets)
7. Target-related innings status when batsman walked in
8. Batsman's contribution to team performance
9. Relative team strengths
10. Location of the match
11. Result of the match
As Perera's innings reached its end, I was almost certain it would be in the top ten, even if Sri Lanka lost. With the win, I was certain Perera would go above Brian Lara's unbeaten 153 against Australia in Barbados, but it was unclear whether he would go past Gooch. The last-wicket partnership and the fact that it was an away win turned out to be clinching factors.
Since Perera's and Lara's innings are identical in many ways, here is why Perera's innings rates higher.
1. The South African home bowling strength was significantly ahead of Australia's away bowling strength in that 1999 match.
2. The Durban pitch was markedly poorer than the Bridgetown pitch. The scores in the four innings in Durban were 235, 191, 259, 304 for 9, as against 490, 329, 146, 311 for 9 in Barbados. The PQI (Pitch Quality Index) values are 41.6 and 54.0 respectively.
3. Perera added 194 runs for the last five wickets and 89 for the last two wickets, out of a team total of 304. This is better than Lara's corresponding figures (206 runs for the latter five wickets and 63 for the last two wickets, out of 311).
4. Finally and most importantly, Sri Lanka achieved an away win over a stronger South Africa, while West Indies achieved a home win against a stronger Australia. This was very significant.
5. Perera's innings had a better IPV (Innings Peer Value), while Lara's innings had a better HSI (High Scoring Index). These two factors almost cancelled each other.
These factors together gave Perera's innings a higher rating value by 90 points.
Now, to consider Perera's innings next to Gooch's 154.
1. The bowling strength of the two opposing teams was almost the same, though South Africa are marginally better.
2. Gooch added 136 runs for the final five wickets and 16 for the last two wickets, out of 252. Perera's corresponding figures are much better.
3. Gooch batted with a lead of 25 in the third innings. The notional target was 275, and just over 90% of this was achieved. Perera's knock, on the other hand, was in the fourth innings, with a higher target reached.
The above three factors are almost cancelled out by the following three:
4. Gooch played on a significantly poorer pitch (innings scores of 198, 173, 252, and 162). The PQI was only 35.3.
5. Gooch's HSI, at 3.8, was way ahead of Perera's 1.68.
6. Gooch's IPV, at 12.7, was ahead of Perera's 10.0.
The final difference is solely due to the fact that Sri Lanka achieved a tough away win while England's was at home, albeit also tough. There is a 30-point difference in this parameter.
Also, Lara's stature meant everyone expected him to achieve the impossible. However, even the most ardent Sri Lankan supporter - and I belong in that category - did not really think this win was possible. The possibility of a win gained strength only when the target came down to 20. Lara is my favourite cricketer, but I have to admit that he must yield to this masterpiece by another left-hander. And the English will not begrudge their man losing the top spot to this fourth-innings classic.
One has to feel for the South Africans. But it's worth recognising there were tactical errors - they did not make concerted efforts to get Perera out, easy singles were offered, Keshav Maharaj was possibly overbowled, and there were fielding mistakes. Also, Kagiso Rabada was off-colour, which was a big blow, given that Vernon Philander was already injured and unavailable for most of the innings. But that does not take anything away from Perera's tactical awareness, precise, uncluttered strategy, ability to switch modes when necessary, and his immense self-belief. Not to forget Vishwa Fernando's equally immense courage.
What is it with Sri Lankan batsmen? We have had Sanath Jayasuriya's 253, Mahela Jayawardene's 180, Dimuth Karunaratne's 158 not out, Kusal Mendis' 176, Dinesh Chandimal's 162 not out, Sangakkara's 156 not out, Hashan Tillekaratne's 115, and now Perera's gem.
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems