Two days before a Dunedin Test match in December, news broke that a doping test had found a banned substance in Kusal Perera‘s body. In the grueling months that followed, Perera put himself through more tests – including a polygraph – to have his name cleared.
Two days out from another Test match and Perera’s batting was seen getting special attention in the nets on the Lord’s Nursery Ground. He admitted six months out of the game had taken an emotional and physical toll, but there is an eagerness to get back to playing cricket. What better place to make his return, he asked, than the most prestigious ground of them all?
“I haven’t been told if I’m playing yet, but I was thrown into trouble and to come back from that at Lord’s would be a great opportunity,” Kusal said. “I was banned just before a Test, so to return in this format would be fitting. Even the time I was out of the team I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. But these things can happen in life.”
Between December 7, when he was provisionally suspended, and May 11, when he was cleared, Perera was not allowed to so much as train with the SLC coaches. He might not have had the time anyway, having had to make repeated trips overseas, including to London, where the polygraph and a separate urine test were conducted. A hair analysis was done in a Paris lab.
“I couldn’t really think about cricket much in those months, because my focus was on the problem I was facing. I didn’t have any time to think about whether I was in touch, or whether I could train, or even what was happening in cricket. I started training the day after I was cleared. Before then I didn’t do much batting – just some fitness work.”
Perera was in the nets at Colombo’s Khettarama on May 13, and said he has trained as much as Sri Lanka’s heavy southwest monsoon has allowed him to. He was not expected to play a part in the Test series, but injuries to others in the squad have allowed him to be fast-tracked.
“When you start training after six months your body needs to get used to it again,” he said. “Your muscles start to hurt – but that’s normal. But what I’ve found is that because I’m coming into it quite fresh, I’m hitting the ball well. I’m seeing it well. So there are positives to it as well. I feel like I’m in good touch.”
Perera said he hadn’t specifically trained for Test cricket since resuming practice, but was hopeful the relative ease of conditions at Lord’s might ease him into international cricket – if he is in the final XI. Temperatures are expected to remain in the 20s Centigrade during the Test, and no team has been dismissed for less than 350 at Lord’s in three county matches so far this season.
“I watched the attack and it’s mostly fast bowlers,” Kusal said. “In London the conditions seem easier, because it must have been very cold in Durham. When it’s cold you are a bit stiff and your feet don’t work as well. With this weather and given the pitch as well – which looks like it will be batting-friendly – I think there’s a chance for us to dominate them.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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