Can Sri Lanka keep their feet on the ground after the highs of the first Test?
These will be the key questions as the two sides head into the second and final Test in Port Elizabeth starting Thursday (February 21). The visitors are 1-0 ahead after Perera played one of the best Test innings of all time, leading his side to an unlikely win from an improbable situation. Chasing 304, Sri Lanka were 215 for 8, and then 226 for 9, before Perera did his thing.
His 153* will be a part of Sri Lanka's, and Test cricket's, greatest stories and spoken about for years to come. And rightly so. But it's equally important to hit the reset button, for both the sides. A drawn Test series will be a satisfying effort for Sri Lanka, no doubt, but it's up to them to show Durban wasn't a one-off. The victory there should ideally be the starting of better things for a side that has struggled in recent years.
Perera had a stunning game - he also made 51 in the first innings - but they'll want a more combined effort from the batsmen. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne and Oshada Fernando - the top three - got starts in the match but none carried on. It meant they had to rely on the middle and lower orders, with the likes of Dananjaya de Silva, Lasith Embuldeniya and even Vishwa Fernando contributing. They had Perera to do the bulk of the scoring though, which might not always happen.
But it's not just Sri Lanka who have had top-order issues. South Africa too have grappled with batting form. Since the start of the last year, only Quinton de Kock among South Africa's batsmen has averaged more than 40. The rest have struggled - partly due to tough batting pitches but also because they've not stepped up in AB de Villiers' absence. Even the mighty Hashim Amla has been out of form, while captain Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar have been up and down.
It showed in the first Test. Three of Sri Lanka's bowlers in the game - Fernando, Kasun Rajitha and Embuldeniya - had a combined tally of seven Tests among them going into the game. Yet, South Africa managed just 235 and 259 in their innings. While they lost the first three wickets for 17 runs in the first innings, they lost the last five for eight runs in the second. As many as 18 of the 20 wickets were taken by the three Sri Lankan bowlers mentioned above.
South Africa do have one of the best attacks in the world, albeit it was taken apart by Perera. But if the batsmen don't find form, the opposition will always feel in with a chance. One freak innings could prove too much for even the best of the attacks, which was exactly the case in Durban.
South Africa will be without Vernon Philander, who injured his hamstring in the first match. They might use the chance to prop up their batting, bringing in Theunis de Bruyn. Durban could well be a one-off, but for now, it's the hosts who are under pressure while Sri Lanka seek history: They could well become the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa if they hold on or add to their lead.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Wiaan Mulder, Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Dhananjaya de Silva, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohamed Shiraz, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Embuldeniya
First Published: February 20, 2019, 3:45 PM IST