PORT ELIZABETH: Sri Lanka will be chasing history and a shock series victory when they play hosts South Africa in the second and final test at St George’s Park on Thursday.
The tourists claimed a one-wicket win in the first game in Durban on Saturday thanks to a staggering test innings from middle-order batsman Kusal Perera, who bludgeoned his way to 153 not out and put on a record 78 runs for the last wicket with Vishwa Fernando.
It was a piece of individual brilliance and leaves Sri Lanka with the opportunity to claim a first ever test series victory in South Africa, something their sub-continent rivals India and Pakistan have yet to achieve.
It was Sri Lanka’s first victory in any format since Oct after tough tours to New Zealand and Australia, and whether they can back it up with a second heroic performance in Port Elizabeth will be the key question.
Perera won them the game but was not the only outstanding player, with debutant left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya claiming 5-66 in South Africa’s second innings and seamer Fernando posting match figures of 8-133.
Perera played a lone hand with the bat, his match aggregate of 204 runs providing 41% of the tourists’ total in both innings, with no other player passing 50.
South Africa will be without experienced seamer Vernon Philander and could give a debut to all-rounder Wiaan Mulder, 21, who would strengthen the batting.
“We will look at the conditions on the pitch and will make the best decision for the team,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said, with the other option to recall batsman Theunis de Bruyn.
“We want to bat better in our first innings, we need to improve on that if we want to win this game.”
Gibson says there are no thoughts of revenge for the home side. Rather his team will try to work out a plan for Perera, now the obvious dangerman among the visitors.
“There is only focus on playing a bit better. When you look at what happened in Durban you have to give them (Sri Lanka) credit,” Gibson said.
“When I left home on the morning of the game I didn’t see that happening. But credit must go to the way they played, especially Perera, who rode his luck a bit in the beginning but then settled down.
“We threw everything at him and he withstood all of that. We bowled spin, went round the wicket, over the wicket, bounced him, tried the yorker. But that is the nature of the sport.”
South Africa’s streak of seven consecutive home test series wins has been ended, no matter what happens in Port Elizabeth.
The only other test meeting at St George’s Park between the two sides was in 2016 when South Africa won by 206 runs. Perera scored seven and six in his two innings batting at number three.