Sa’adi Thawfeeq in Daily News 5 February 2020, with this title “The Kusal Perera saga”
Many opinions has been expressed and many words written on the exclusion of Kusal Perera from the Test squad to Zimbabwe. Perera as you may remember played one of the greatest match-winning innings in Test cricket against South Africa guiding his team to an epic one-wicket win at Durban hitting an unbeaten 153 as Sri Lanka chased down 304.
But since then Perera’s scores in Test cricket have been 20, 1, 23, 0 and 0. However the selectors persisted with him and took him to Pakistan but with the return of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal both of whom missed the South African series, he lost his place in the Test team and was pushed to the rank of reserves.
When the Test team to Zimbabwe was picked the selectors left Perera out of the squad of 15 and this brought forth a great amount of criticism over his exclusion.
Who better a person to answer the critics than the chairman of selectors Ashantha de Mel? “Actually Kusal was not dropped. He was in Pakistan for two Test matches and he didn’t play in any of them. He was carrying drinks. We spoke to the coach (Mickey Arthur) and the captain (Dimuth Karunaratne) with the West Indies tour coming up is it worthwhile taking this guy and keeping him on the bench because he wasn’t going to play any way. When we spoke to the coach and the captain the seven guys who were going to play were the same who played in Pakistan – Dimuth, Oshada, Mendis, Angelo, Chandimal and Dhananjaya,” explained De Mel.
“Where is Kusal going to play? You’ve got to play your best wicket-keeper and Dickwella is the no. 1 wicket-keeper. Kusal cannot keep wickets for five days in Test matches because he is not fit enough to bend and stand because he has got a recurring back problem. He has to do some surgery which he doesn’t want to right now. Every time his back gets tight his hamstrings pull so he has to do a certain amount of rehab work to keep his fitness when he wants to play one-day cricket. He is begging not to put him to field but he wants to keep. In a Test match keeping is a very tough job. The coach spoke to him and said, ‘Look isn’t it better for you to stay back and do your white ball training than to go to Zimbabwe and be a reserve on the bench’. He was happy with it. If he had gone there he would have been sitting and doing nothing. That was the reason, not that he was dropped. The coaches felt that it is best that he stay back and work with the physios and get his back right, train with the white ball and be ready for West Indies to play white ball cricket,” De Mel said.
“Kusal may have played a great innings in South Africa but then Chandimal and Mathews were not there so when they come into the side somebody has to go out. He was brought in by us when he was in the wilderness in Test matches. Now when it comes to the England Test matches again he may not play, even though he can be in the Sri Lanka squad.
“The team is selected not only by me and the co-selectors, the coach and the captain also has to be comfortable. Kusal has confided in me that he prefers the shorter game to the longer one because of his back problem. But we are still keen to keep him just in case he is required to play in a Test in an emergency.”
De Mel also pointed out that both Mathews and Chandimal sport Test averages over 40 whereas Kusal averages 31. In their respective careers Mathews and Chandimal too have played unforgettable innings in Test cricket. Who can overlook Mathews’ captain’s knock of 160 against England in the second innings at Leeds in 2014 that enabled Sri Lanka to win by 100 runs and secure their maiden Test series win in England.
A year later Chandimal played one of the best rearguard innings that steered his side to a 63-run win over India at Galle. India were right on top of the game having gained a first innings lead of 192 and reduced Sri Lanka to 95-5 in the second innings when Chandimal took gradual control of the match and went onto play a terrific knock of 162 not out. India requiring 176 for victory was bundled out for 112 by the wiles of Rangana Herath.
So it is pertinent to remember that one innings does not make a summer.