A side strain put Kusal Perera out of the Twenty20 International series in Bangladesh earlier this year, and Kusal Mendis waded into the fray and made merry. Back in the mix, Perera hit a rollicking 37-ball 66 against India in the Nidahas Trophy opener at Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium on Tuesday, 6 March, to lead Sri Lanka to a five-wicket win.
It was an innings filled with outrageous strokes, including six fours and four sixes and 27 runs off a Shardul Thakur over, the third of the innings, when nothing Thakur did seemed to stop Perera from swinging and hitting big.
“I think it is my best innings,” agreed Perera, the Player of the Match, after the game.
The Pereras have won it for Sri Lanka. Kusal with a half century, and Thisara with 22 from 10 to seal the deal.— ICC (@ICC) March 6, 2018
Sri Lanka win by five wickets#SLvIND SCORECARD ➡️ https://t.co/OykXB4Cw8E pic.twitter.com/yY4Nj70Sqq
He went on to explain how he was desperate to recover from his injury quickly and get back for the tournament which has been organised to celebrate 70 years of Sri Lanka’s independence. “I played my club matches, did my practice, I backed myself, did my physiotherapy sessions … I wanted to go out there and express myself. That’s it,” he said.
Before Perera’s heroics, it was Shikhar Dhawan who held sway, knocking the Sri Lankan bowlers around for a 49-ball 90 to guide India, who are without some of their regulars, to a competitive 174/5.
“I enjoyed batting today, it was a bit of a slow pitch. But I was happy that I could stand till the end and perform for the team,” said Dhawan, who was dismissed in the 18th over.
India had lost Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina cheaply to be 9/2 when Dhawan, in the company of Manish Pandey (37), took off.
“As we lost early wickets, it was important for one of the top three to stay in. I was enjoying myself. I like to carry on and make as many runs as possible, have fun out there. I believe in having fun out there,” said Dhawan, adding that Perera’s innings was an “amazing” one.
Despite the defeat, Sharma, standing in as India captain as Virat Kohli takes some time off, wasn’t too disappointed with either the batting or the bowling.
“I think it was a par score, something we can play with. Having seen the wicket here – it was flat – I thought we could have accelerated a little more towards the end. That said, I felt we still had a decent score but the kind of start Sri Lanka got was amazing. Credit to Sri Lankan team as a batting group,” he said.
“Our bowlers tried everything they could, but sometimes it happens, it doesn't come off the way you want it to. They are new into the scene, but they've put in performances. I had a lot of confidence going into this game. Yes, the execution was not up to the mark but we can learn from our mistakes.”
Perera felt that keeping India to 174/5 required a “very good job” on the part of the bowling unit, and Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lanka captain, agreed.
“We’re really happy as a team. This is a really good start for the tournament. As always, we were trying to play competitive cricket and the results will follow,” he said. “This is all about trust, confidence. It will give us good confidence going forward.”
On the subject of going forward, both teams have fixtures against Bangladesh, who are again without Shakib Al Hasan, their talismanic leader, coming up.
Bangladesh have had a lean run of late, losing at home to Sri Lanka across formats, and Dhawan felt that gave India a good chance of getting among the points. “They will come to win, but sometimes when you are desperate to win, you try too hard. Sometimes it might not work for you, and we will try to take advantage of it,” he said.
The final of the Tri-Series takes place on Saturday March 17.