It is nearly four years since Sanath Jayasuriya played his last game for Sri Lanka against England at the Oval ending a glittering career that was capped with a World Cup win in 1996.
The past two years has seen a cricketer almost in the Jayasuriya mould hammering the bowlers to all parts of the outfield and playing shots reminiscent of the Master Blaster himself.
Kusal Janith Perera has all the makings of another Jayasuriya and it has been his inconsistency at international level that has not made his place in the senior team secure.
The recently concluded series between Sri Lanka ‘A’ and Pakistan ‘A’ brought the best out of Perera in both formats – unofficial tests and unofficial ODIs where he scored over 300 runs and averaged well over 150 in each series, to emerge as the stand-out batsman from either side.
A left-hander like Jayasuriya, Perera proved to be unstoppable as he piled up scores of 114 (n.o.), 110 and 87 in the three unofficial ODIs and scores of 119 (n.o.), 23, 90 and 102 (n.o.) in the three unofficial tests to display impressive averages of 155.50 and 167 respectively.
“Kusal was hungry to show what he is capable of, he was really keen on playing and performing despite an injury to his hand,” said Romesh Kaluwitharana, the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team coach.
Perera aggravated an injury on the side of his small finger and wrist while keeping wickets during the ODI series against Pakistan ‘A’ but he did not let that hinder his progress. “He displayed a strong head to play and perform.”
Perera opened the batting in the ODI series but batted lower down at six in the unofficial tests. However it made no difference to his approach as he thrashed the Pakistani bowlers all over the park.
“If he is going to keep wickets for Sri Lanka in Tests the wisest thing to do is to bat down the order. The national selectors also think that if he is to play as wicket-keeper in Tests he has to bat lower down. That is the best position for him,” said Kaluwitharana.
“Kusal showed he had the patience to adjust from ODIs to tests, he knew how to shift gears. It’s not only his batting performances but the way he batted was brilliant. I think the selectors are very convinced about his performance,” he said.
“I am very happy the way he has performed. I hope he will break into the Test team soon. It’s upto the selectors to decide.”
Did Perera undergo any technical changes to his batting that turned him into a run scoring machine?
“I was looking at him in a different way because he is very different to some of the players,” said Kaluwitharana, also a hard-hitting opening bat and wicket-keeper who was a member of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup winning squad.
“There were a couple of minor adjustments that was done which was good for him. It’s all about hitting the ball with a lot of timing that is the key to the batting. If you look at him his hand speed with the bat is brilliant and with his talent he can do more wonders.
“For me he is something special. He has the ability to take the bowlers apart. Cricket is a game which gives a batsman the edge to dominate the game, when you do that the bowlers will always take a back seat. They’ll try to stop the runs from flowing and go on the defensive which gives them very little chance to take wickets.
“When you bat positively and aggressively with a solid defence then the chances of getting your wicket becomes very slim. That’s the key to Kusal’s performances.”
The national selector who followed the series were also impressed with Perera’s performances.
“We are keeping a very close watch on him. We are impressed the way he batted and we have him in mind for the upcoming series against Pakistan,” said head selector Kapila Wijegunawardene.
“We made use of the series to experiment on certain plans we had in mind and Perera was one of them. We are currently in the process of assessing them,” he said.