Vishwa Fernando, one of the heroes of Sri Lanka's epic win in Durban, said he was 'pretty sad' before he came out to bat in the fourth innings, but 'felt differently' once he was actually out there in the middle.
The match was poised heavily in South Africa's favour when Fernando walked out as the last man – Sri Lanka required 76 runs with just one wicket in hand, and although Kusal Perera was batting beautifully, victory seemed improbable.
Naturally, there were palpitations as Fernando's turn to bat neared. But once he was out in the middle, he was committed to survival. He reassured Perera that he wouldn't throw his wicket away and the duo decided to take it 10 runs at a time. What resulted was one of the most impressive chases in Test history.
Sri Lanka have done it!— ICC (@ICC) February 16, 2019
Kusal Perera's 153* takes them over the line with one of the greatest innings in the history of this brilliant game!
Absolutely incredible.#SAvSL FOLLOW ⬇️ https://t.co/ILua51ZiiN pic.twitter.com/M23vZKId1S
"Suranga Lakmal went out and got out first ball, unfortunately, and I had to start putting my pads on," Fernando told ESPNCricinfo. "I was pretty sad, to be honest. I felt like we had too many runs to get, and too few wickets. They had a 75-80% chance to win. But then I got to the middle, I felt differently. I told Kusal aiya straight away that I wasn't going to give away my wicket."
Fernando was prepared to brave it out, to the extent that he was willing to put his body on the line if he had to. "Yes, I did (tell Perera that I would fend off balls with my body, if needed). My job was to protect my wicket, not to score runs. So I told Kusal aiya 'you score the runs. Let's get 10 runs closer, and another 10 runs closer, and take it from there'."
South Africa's bowlers had fancied their chances against Fernando, and tried targetting him. But the No.11 survived 27 deliveries, scoring 6*, to hold them off.
Sri Lanka have made a number of changes for their upcoming ODI series against South Africa.— ICC (@ICC) February 18, 2019
FULL SQUAD ⬇️https://t.co/ZwzjtWwAOn pic.twitter.com/qP1YF2mhGv
"I wasn't afraid," said Fernando. "Well, I wasn't afraid that I would get hit, at least. I was afraid that I would lose my wicket. Kusal aiya can't play the whole over. I had to bat one or two balls at least. There was a lot of pressure. The fast bowlers were having a go at me, and the close fielders were having a go at me. I did say a few things back.
"If I'd played a dumb shot, or backed away from the wicket and got out, then that would have been wrong."
Fernando's contribution to the win was more than his defiance with the bat. With the ball, he took match figures 8/133, his career-best figures. He wasn't entirely pleased with the amount of runs he conceded, but ultimately the wickets he claimed helped set the game up.
'The lower-order batsmen gave me good support' – Sri Lanka hero Kusal Perera credits team effort for "special" victory against South Africa.#SAvSL REACTION 👇https://t.co/Dyjoo14RaG pic.twitter.com/f6mlJd48yp— ICC (@ICC) February 17, 2019
"I was pretty happy with my eight wickets, but there was also a feeling that I shouldn't have given away so many runs, and should have done a little bit more. But in the end I'm happy with the performance because we did end up winning."
The second Test starts in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, 21 February.