By Shehan Daniel
Kusal Janith Perera marked his return to the Sri Lanka team with an innings that may not have been his career best in quantity but came pretty close to that in quality, as Sri Lanka chased down the 156 runs they needed to take a one-nil lead in the two-match series against Bangladesh losing just four wickets at the R. Premadasa Stadium yesterday.
Scoring a sensational 77 of 53 balls, with nine boundaries and a six, Kusal’s innings ensured that Sri Lanka were never really behind the required rate, leaving the hosts with only nine runs to score when he finally succumbed to a short ball at the start of the penultimate over.
With a six from Seekkuge Prasanna and a Thisara Perera boundary, Sri Lanka crossed the line four balls later, with the former finishing unbeaten on 22 off just 12 balls.
It was Perera’s opening partner Upul Tharanga who got Sri Lanka off to an exhilarating start, scoring three boundaries off the second over of the innings, absorbing most of the strike in the first four overs.
Kusal sprang to life in the next over, pulling Shakib al Hasan for a six and cracking two boundaries while quickly moving onto 20 off 12 balls.
He followed it up with three more boundaries over the next nine balls as Sri Lanka raced to 64 mid-way through the seventh over before Tharanga picked out Mustafizur Raheem at short third-man a run later.
That wicket did little to slow the Sri Lankan scoring-rate, which dipped only marginally as partnerships with Dilshan Munaweera and Asela Gunaratne yielded runs at more than a run a ball.
Between losing Munaweera and Gunaratne in the ninth and 16th overs respectively Kusal reached his sixth T20 half-century in 31 balls, getting there with his sixth boundary – before eventually falling seven runs short of his career best of 84 against Pakistan.
Kusal last played a T20 for Sri Lanka in September last year against Australia, and after some shaky performances has not featured in the National Team in any format since December.
He was in line for a return in the recently concluded ODI series against Bangladesh but was sidelined by a hamstring injury, and was only passed fit on Monday.
Earlier, contributions from Mossadek Hossain, M. Mahmudullah, and Soumya Sarkar helped Bangladesh reach a challenging score of 155.
Bangladesh Captain Mashrafe Mortaza elected to bat first on winning the toss – taking the opportunity also to formally announce that this would be his last series in this format – but a light shower before the first ball was bowled pushed the start of the game back by 43 minutes.
Sri Lanka made the better start, with Lasith Malinga making a breakthrough with the second ball of the innings – almost accounting for two more wickets by the end of the first over – but the hosts let up and Bangladesh racked up 51 runs over the four overs that followed, racing to 57 for one in five overs.
It took a sublime piece of fielding to break that second-wicket partnership between Sarkar and Rahman, when Rahman was run out for 16 in the following over; his decision to not run in a straight line proving decisive just short of the crease.
Sarkar followed four balls later, caught in the deep, and Bangladesh lost the wickets of Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib al Hasan for the addition of 25 runs during a tight spell, slipping to 82 for five in the 12th over.
Mossadek Hossain and M. Mahmudullah then put on 57 runs in 42 balls in a late flurry to get Bangladesh back on track before Mahmudullah was bowled by Malinga in the 18th over.