Kusal Perera stretches his arms and looks skyward after taking Sri Lanka to a one-wicket win. Getty Images
Kusal Perera, who masterminded Sri Lanka's thrilling heist in the first Test against South Africa, labelled the one-wicket victory as a 'special win' for the team.
Set a target of 304, Sri Lanka were down to 110 for 5 when Perera joined hands with Dhananjaya de Silva (48) to set the base for the recovery. However, South Africa clawed their way back into the game, triggering a collapse that saw the visitors slip to 226 for 9 from a comfortable 206/5. A well-set Perera, however, joined hands with Vishwa Fernando in a defiant 78-run partnership that helped Sri Lanka over the line to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
"I'm still tired now. I don't know what to say. Great effort as a team, specially the lower order batsmen," Man of the Match Perera said after his unbeaten 153. "They gave me good support. I believed in myself and we did. I did my part, winning as a team. We did our homework. This is a special win for us.We did a lot of hard work in previous times."
Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne said the come-from-behind victory is a "proud moment" for Sri Lanka cricket and will bode well for the fans back home. "It was an awesome game. We knew that we had a good chance," he said in the post-match presentation.
"We had a tough series in Australia, but we learnt some things. It will be good for us and Sri Lankan fans. This is a proud moment for me as a captain and for Sri Lanka. We were not moving. End of the day, we did a good job here, result is good as well. He batted really well. He is one of the most experienced players in the side. Two debutants did really well. As a team, we have to play as a unit and give our best."
Left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya returned match figures of 6 for 117 on debut, including a fifer in the second innings that triggered a collapse and restricted South Africa to a manageable 259.
Meanwhile, Faf du Plessis also heaped high praise on "Superman" Perera. "Incredible game of cricket, [we're] obviously disappointed. Great for the game of Test cricket. Perera was unbelievable - Superman effort."
The South African skipper believed the ball that they were forced to change early into the second session on Day 3, proved to be their undoing. The ball in action picked up white paint from the crease after du Plessis played a defensive shot in his 90-run knock on Friday, and had to be changed due to the big white patch on it.
"The wicket was slow and made the ball slow, they changed the ball and it started to swing. The swing was what that did us," du Plessis said.
The South African skipper though believed 304 was an adequate challenging target for the fourth innings and were confident despite losing Vernon Philander, to hamstring injury on the fourth morning. "I thought 300 was enough. Great batting took it away from us. I'd be lying if I say there wasn't emotions going through inside. Difficult for a captain, tactically. Brilliant bowling from Dale again. Disappointed not to have Vern today. I'd have backed the four bowlers to take 10 wickets. It's disappointing as it's just a 2-match series. We'll come back stronger," he concluded.