All good things come to an end, they say. And they sure did, in the Augusts of 2014 and 2015, when Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara bid adieu to Test cricket, respectively.
It is no secret to anyone that they were the pillars of the Sri Lankan batting line up for almost 15 years since the turn of the century. At numbers 3 and 4 in the batting order, they were to Sri Lanka what Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were to India in their Test team.
Towards the end of their careers, though, the talks grew loud about who would replace these legends once they are done in Test cricket and from then on began the struggle for Sri Lanka, to find batsmen capable enough to slot into the places left vacant by these two batting superstars from the island nation.
Similarly, the search for a quality off-spinner had become a never ending one since Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement and Sri Lanka seemed to find no one who could partner Rangana Herath and form a deadly duo on helpful surfaces for the team. Suraj Randiv raised hopes but fizzled away and there has been no one since.
But have the Sri Lankans finally been successful in finding players who can try and replace these legends and become the nucleus of the Test team for quite some time to come? It seems they have. Let’s take a look.
July 26-30, 2016: Sri Lanka played Australia in the first Test of a 3 match series for the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy at Pallekele. After being skittled out for 117 in the first innings, the Sri Lankans came back well to bowl the Australians out for 203, conceding a lead of 86. Come the 2nd innings and the score was 6 for 2 when a youngster, aged just 21, walked out to bat.
The score soon became 86 for 4 which meant effectively, Sri Lanka were zero for 4. What happened from then announced the arrival of a young batting star on the international scene, who many believe could go on to become one of Sri Lanka’s finest ever.
Kusal Mendis scored a masterly 176 on a pitch which was offering huge assistance to the bowlers and helped Sri Lanka set a target of 268 for the Aussies, which they fell 106 short of.
In the second Test of the same series, Sri Lanka again trampled Australia by 229 runs. This time, the architect of the win was a wily off-spinner who had been slogging his way around in the domestic circuit for 15 years with well over 500 wickets under his belt – Dilruwan Perera. He broke the back of the Aussie batting lineup with match figures of 10 for 99, and for good measure, even scored a bright 64 in the second innings coming in at a tricky situation to help set a target of over 400 for the visitors to chase.
Then there is the sprightly Kusal Perera who, when batting, looks like Sanath Jayasuriya Version 2.0. On Test debut, he scored a fifty in each innings against India in August 2015 and has become an integral part of the batting lineup since then.
These players look to have the talent as well as temperament for the biggest stage and the Sri Lankan selectors would do well to invest in them for the future. Age-wise, Kusal Mendis is just 21 and Kusal Perera, 26. Dilruwan Perera is slightly on the older side at 34 but considering he is a spinner and that Rangana Herath is still spinning his web around batsman as he is closing in on 40, one can say Perera might have 5 years of top quality cricket left in him if he can maintain form and fitness.
Let’s take a look at their numbers in Test cricket so far:
The numbers tell us that all three of them have indeed made promising starts to their careers. Kusal Mendis takes the crucial no. 3 spot in the batting line up that was vacated by Sanga a little over 12 months ago.
Kusal Perera has shown remarkable flexibility with batting positions and can slot in anywhere from numbers 1 to 7. He batted at 7 on Test debut and scored twin fifties, and in his most recent Test against Zimbabwe a few days ago, batted at no. 3 and scored his maiden hundred in Test cricket which shows he is someone who can adjust well to any batting spot offered to him as per the team’s need.
Dilruwan Perera has shown he is a real force to be reckoned with, especially on surfaces that assist the spinners. As a strike rate of 55 after 25 bowling innings suggests, he is a wicket-taker, and his 15 wickets in the 3-Test series against Australia went a long way in helping Sri Lanka achieve its first ever whitewash in a Test series against Australia.
He is pretty capable with the bat too as can be seen by the fact that he has over 6000 First Class runs at an average of 24, and hence, slots in very nicely at no. 8 in the Test team in most conditions.
Together, these rising stars give hope to the cricket crazy nation of Sri Lanka that they can rise quickly from the losses of its star players and can soon become a force in Test cricket again.
These players combined with experienced heads like Mathews, Herath and Chandimal, and rookies like Dushmantha Chameera and Dhananjaya de Silva can lead Sri Lanka into a new era of dominance in Test Cricket and can bring moments of joy to their loyal fans, something they have missed ever since the legends left the scene.
One can only hope they translate their talent and promise into consistent performances and if they do, it’ll only make the world of cricket richer!