Bridgetown, Barbados: Kusal Perera battled through the considerable discomfort of a painful chest injury in partnership with namesake Dilruwan Perera to guide Sri Lanka to a historic series-levelling four-wicket victory over the West Indies in the third and final Test at Kensington Oval in Barbados on Tuesday.
Set a target of 144 and resuming on the fourth day at the overnight position of 81 for five, Sri Lanka reached their goal for the loss of one additional wicket to become the first Asian team ever to win a Test match at Caribbean cricket's most iconic venue.
That wicket, which fell in the very first over of the afternoon to West Indies captain Jason Holder, ushered in Kusal, whose further participation in the match was in serious doubt when he injured himself crashing into the advertising boards the previous night.
Both Kusal and Dilruwan had made only minimal contributions previously in the three-match series with the all-rounder Dilruwan having been dropped for the second Test while there was speculation that Kusal, the experienced but out-of-form opening batsman, would have been omitted from this final Test were it not for the suspension of regular captain Dinesh Chandimal for ball tampering in the previous match in St Lucia.
However, they both played with great determination, weathering the storm from the West Indies fast bowlers in an unbroken seventh-wicket partnership of 63. Kusal finished unbeaten on 28 with Dilruwan on 23. It was Dilruwan who made the winning hit, hoisting Holder over mid-off for the boundary that sealed only Sri Lanka's second Test victory in the West Indies.
"Me and Kusal play for the same club so we know each other," said a delighted Dilruwan in savouring the victory. "That experience and knowledge of each other's games helped a lot because it was challenging. The pitch was bit uneven."
For Holder it was a cruel final twist of fate in a match in which he excelled all-around. His dismissal of Kusal Mendis, leg-before without adding to his overnight score of 25, was his fifth wicket of the innings and he finished with innings figures of five for 41 and a match analysis of nine for 59.
Holder also contributed a topscore of 74 in the West Indies first innings of 204 and was just one of four batsmen to get into double-figures when they crashed to 93 – their lowest-ever total in a Test innings in Barbados – on the third evening.
He was the obvious choice as "Man of the Match," small consolation for his team failing to finish the job.
"We just did not have enough runs in the second innings," Holder reflected. "We missed some chances in the field but it won't put us down because we have a quick turnaround for the series against Bangladesh starting next week."
Despite that early success, which raised hopes for the West Indies mowing through the tail in the same manner of 24 hours earlier in Sri Lanka's first innings, none of the other bowlers could match their skipper's probing accuracy and penetration.
Shannon Gabriel failed to add to his series-leading tally of 20 wickets while the experienced Kemar Roach and seamer Miguel Cummins lacked potency when it was most needed for the home side to clinch their first series victory in six years against a team ranked higher than themselves.
"Our second innings bowling won us the game," said Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha. "We always had hope but the way the game progressed we were under pressure. Credit to all four bowlers. Suranga (Lakmal) led from the front."
Charged with the responsibility of leadership for the first time at senior international level, Lakmal could not disguise the delight at his team's achievement.
"I didn't expect to be made captain but I thought it was a good opportunity to lead and I took it," he said. "I'm happy with my contributions but all the bowlers did very well."