Sri Lanka have come to the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 under a cloud of indifferent performances, as the ninth-ranked ODI side. Before their win against Scotland in the lead-up to the tournament, they had won just one bilateral ODI series since the last World Cup.
Dimuth Karunaratne was appointed captain for this World Cup in place of Lasith Malinga, following the 5-0 series loss in South Africa. An Asia Cup debacle before that resulted in long-time captain Angelo Matthews being axed from his second stint in the role, and replaced by Dinesh Chandimal, who himself lasted just two tours before being dropped due to poor performances. However, Perera believes the side has finally found the right man.
“I know him very well; we have played together since under-13 level," he told the ICC. He was my classmate, he’s one year older than me, but we were playing together in our school times. I know about his performances and his knowledge of cricket, so I think he’s the best person to carry our team at the moment.
“I think he’s a really good person, and that is the most important thing as a captain. He’s got every person around him – that is the power he has. He’s really silent and very cool; he never [scolds] anyone and he’s always reassuring and telling us we can do it. Even back in school, it was the same thing. He’s like a brother to everyone.”
Sri Lanka have had a mixed start to their campaign: they lost to New Zealand, won against Afghanistan, and had their match against Pakistan cancelled by rain. Perera knows the senior players will have to rally around the captain to ensure wins.
“We will give our best to the new captain. As a senior player, I have to give my 200% to my captain," he said. "If we give our everything, we can do something special at this World Cup.”
It is not just proving a point on behalf of their captain that is motivating the team. The tragic events of the terror attacks that left more than 250 dead in Colombo in April are still fresh in the memory, and Perera insists the players want to give the fans back home something to smile about.
“It is very sad to think about last month, so as a team, we will give some love to our Sri Lankan fans. We have already spoken about this and how we have to give them something to dream about this tournament.”
To do this, Perera has been working hard on his game, particularly on playing the short ball, and credits the work of coach Chandika Hathurusingha for his progress. He now hopes to fulfil his ultimate dream.
“The last few years, I’ve been working on how I play the short ball, and now I think I’m dealing with it pretty well. The coach has given me lots of confidence by changing small things about my batting stance and doing some extra sessions with me. He knows my success is playing naturally, so just tells me to play my natural game.
“I have a dream, though. During the 1996 World Cup, I was just seven years old when I saw Arjuna Ranatunga win the final with four runs, so I have a dream to finish it with six runs.”