When Keshav Maharaj dismissed Kasun Rajitha to reduce Sri Lanka to 226/9, a South African victory was a near certainty. However, Perera scripted a historic partnership with Vishwa Fernando for the final wicket to take his side past the finish line.
It was a splendid effort by the duo, who added 78 runs between them – a record tenth-wicket stand for successful chases in Test cricket. While Perera dominated the partnership with his blistering effort, Fernando remained resilient with a 27-ball 6.
Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka resumed their pursuit of the 304-run target at 83/3. Oshada Fernando and Perera took guard, adding 27 runs to their overnight stand of 31 for the fourth wicket. Steyn drew the first blood of the fourth morning for the home side, forcing an edge off Fernando’s willow.
The seamer got rid of Niroshan Dickwella in the same over, completing a stunning caught-&-bowled to reduce Sri Lanka to 110/5. The double-strike propelled Steyn past Stuart Broad in the all-time leading wicket-takers in Test cricket – he now sits seventh with 439 red-ball scalps to his name.
At that point, the visitors looked vulnerable to a batting collapse. However, Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva dug in thereafter, taking the total to 166/5 at lunch.
The duo continued to resist in the second session, notching a momentum-swinging 96-run partnership for the sixth wicket. They undertook a counter-attacking approach to nullify the threat of the Proteas bowling attack.
It was Maharaj who came to South Africa’s rescue, making inroads into the Sri Lankan lower-order. The left-arm spinner trapped de Silva in front of the wicket, and after an extensive review, three reds flashed on the big screen.
Maharaj claimed his second wicket off the very next delivery, dismissing Suranga Lakmal for a golden duck. The length ball spun away from the batsman, catching a feather edge from his willow before nestling into Faf du Plessis’ waiting hands. Lasith Embuldeniya and Kasun Rajitha were dismissed in the next seven overs for scores of 4 and 1 respectively.
Fernando, who had a highest Test score of 4* before this game, was expected to roll over soon thereafter. He contributed just six of the 78 runs scored for the final wicket – five came from an overthrow – but remained focused throughout his innings. He ran quick singles, put his body on the line to make the crease and stood tall before the pace of Kagiso Rabada and Steyn.
Perera, on the other hand, bludgeoned the same bowlers, smashing 12 fours and five sixes in his sensational innings. He scored 10 off the final 13 runs through boundaries, capping the chase with a fine four towards third man.