PALLEKELE, Thursday: Two players who could play key roles in the World Cup squad next year Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka redefined themselves with all-round performances that contributed to Sri Lanka breaking a losing streak of 11 consecutive losses to South Africa.
Perera and Shanaka both scored aggressive half-centuries contributing massively to Sri Lanka’s score of 306-7 and when South Africa began their run chase for 191 of 21 overs played crucial roles on the field to restrict them to 187-9 to give Sri Lanka an exciting three-run win on the Duckworth/Lewis rain rule at the Pallekele International Stadium on Wednesday.
Perera captured two important wickets as South Africa pressed for victory and Shanaka got rid of Reeza Hendricks who had scored a match-winning hundred in the third ODI and more importantly ran out JP Duminy with a direct throw from mid-off which could be regarded the turning point of the match. As long as Duminy who is a great finisher was at the crease South Africa looked like running away with the match.
Shanaka who scored his maiden ODI fifty and won the Man of the Match award was playing his first match in nearly two years.
“A year is a long time. In that time I worked hard on my batting, bowling and fielding. What’s really important to all three is fitness, and I worked hard on that,” said Shanaka.
“The coaching staff deserves the credit. Everyone who is working on our fitness gives us a lot of support to raise our level. We have to step up a level, and what the coaching staff does is try to help us achieve that. I think we can achieve something in time to come, so we have to continue what we are doing,” he said.
“Actually what I had wanted to do was to support Thisara, because he is the best death-overs batsman in Sri Lanka - he can hit a six at any time. I wanted to stay with him till the end and play that supporting role. When he started batting well, I got a few loose balls. When they tried to bowl short at him, they also bowled short at me, so I was able to hit sixes. I was able to score the runs that I did because I batted in support of Thisara.”
Perera who shared a record 109-run stand for the seventh wicket with Shanaka said, “As soon as Dasun came I told him that we shouldn’t stop playing our shots. We are both positive batsmen. We planned three overs by three overs at the start. And then after a while we realised that we were seeing the ball well. So we decided on a target of 280, but we both batted well.
“Dasun was especially good at hitting boundaries, so we were able to pass 300. A 100-run partnership is not easy, because their bowlers were bowling well and we had lost six wickets already. But as soon as Dasun came I told him let’s try and hit straight in the first few overs and get ourselves set, and then see after that.”
“We’re very happy as a team because even though we have lost the series, we played with a lot of enthusiasm to prevent a 5-0 result. We had momentum since the morning. We had a good start, and then Dasun and I were able to finish well. Even the bowling was good, because 190 is a very easy target given the wet conditions, especially after they had hit 21 in the first two overs. But somehow we won the match,” Perera said.
Perera who has improved as an all-rounder in recent times working with the support staff said his main goal is to bring back the World Cup to Sri Lanka.
“Not just as a bowler, but as a player my one goal is to bring the World Cup back to Sri Lanka. I was in the T20 team that won the World T20. If I play well, I’ll be able to do something for the team. Individual milestones will take care of themselves,” said Perera.
“What I want is to take the team forward. Even the wickets and runs that I do get - I can’t do that alone. Someone has to take the catches. I don’t like to play individual cricket. When I go to the ground I get everyone’s support. The main target is to win the World Cup.”