Proteas captain Hashim Amla struck a defiant century, but South Africa go into day four in Colombo 150 runs behind Sri Lanka and still facing an uphill battle.
At stumps on day three Sri Lanka were 11 for none after dismissing South Africa for 282, with Amla scoring a beautiful unbeaten 139. It was the 21st Test century of his career.
Amla and Dale Steyn had started the final session on 119 and 18 respectively. Their aim was to make further inroads into Sri Lanka’s lead and take as much time out of the game as possible.
A frustrated Steyn danced down the wicket and attempted to heave Rangana Herath into the stands. He only succeeded in yorking himself, but the keeper fumbled and missed the stumping opportunity. Steyn tried again two balls later, this time keeping his head down, and deposited it over long-off for six to take his tally to 25.
Herath finally won the battle after enticing Steyn into one big shot too many. He tried to go down the ground, but the ball skewed off the outside half of the bat and he was caught in the deep for a valuable 30.
The arrival of Imran Tahir saw Amla change tactics. He tried to farm the strike in an attempt to protect the genuine tail-ender and prolong the innings. It paid dividends as the two put on 28 and batted deep into the evening session before Tahir lost his concentration and tried to hit Herath out of the rough. He got a leading edge, which looped to mid-off to reduce South Africa to 279-9 with 8 overs remaining in the day’s play.
Morne Morkel didn’t last long as Dilruwan Perera picked up his fifth wicket by getting the No 11 caught at short-leg for a duck. South Africa were eventually dismissed for 282 in the 135th over, while Amla was left stranded on 139.
The Sri Lankan openers had to come out and face the music for five overs before the close. Upul Tharanaga had a scare, but AB de Villiers put down a tough catch in the slips. They reached stumps on 11-0, leading by 150 with 180 overs left in the Test.
The hosts will attempt to score quickly on day four and declare around tea. South Africa on the other hand will look to be as tight as possible with the ball in hand, forcing Sri Lanka to take a lot of time out of the game before feeling comfortable enough to declare.
Earlier in the day, Perera took the new ball after just two deliveries in the afternoon session. Herath shared the new cherry as the spinners where hoping for some extra bounce to bring the close fielders into play.
JP Duminy fought tooth and nail for survival, kicking away as many balls as possible, as the spinners targeted the big rough patch outside the left-hander’s off-stump. After a few lbw shouts, Duminy tried to change his game plan. He came down the wicket to Herath but the turn beat his inside edge. Niroshan Dickwella completed a tidy stumping, his first in Test cricket, to reduce South Africa to 175-6.
Amla, who had been joined in the middle by Vernon Philander, had less difficulty scoring. After being given a life while on 10 yesterday, he reached 93 before handing the Sri Lankans another chance. This time it was an opportunity for cover to take a low catch as Amla tried to drive on the up, but it was grassed. The Proteas captain refocused on the task at hand, bringing up his hundred off 253 deliveries, becoming the first South African skipper to score a Test century in Sri Lanka.
Perera turned one through Philander’s gate straight after the drinks break to clean bowl the all-rounder for eight. The wicket brought Steyn to the crease with the South Africa on 204-7, still trailing by 217 runs.
Amla and Steyn achieved South Africa’s first objective, avoiding the follow-on, before tea. It took 105 overs, but the deficit finally dipped below 200. They reached the break on 234-7 at the break.
This morning Amla and de Villiers started day three with the scoreboard reading 98-3. They played circumspectly for the first few overs as Suranga Lakmal and Ajantha Mendis took up the attack for Sri Lanka.
The momentum shifted in South Africa’s favour a few overs into the day when Mendis and then Lakmal decided to come around the wicket. Amla went to his first half-century as Test captain and then hit two boundaries off a Mendis over. From the other end, Lakmal tried to attack de Villiers with the short ball. The first delivery of the over hit the batsman square on the helmet, but de Villiers retaliated by dispatching three pull shots to the square-leg boundary. The two overs cost 24 runs and the partnership was up and running.
The two batsmen negotiated the first hour and took drinks at 143-3, but the introduction of Perera after the break turned the morning on its head. Coming around the wicket, the off-spinner got one to straighten down the line of the stumps and trapped de Villiers plumb in front for 37. Quinton de Kock strode to the wicket, but played the wrong line and was bowled for a second ball duck. The double strike left South Africa on 150-5 with the last recognised pair of Amla and Duminy at the crease.
The two quick wickets resulted in the batsmen retreating in to their shells, while Perera and Herath were in the midst of good spells. The spinners were extracting extravagant turn and bounce, causing a lot of excitement from the vultures around the bat. Amla and Duminy absorbed a great deal of pressure and managed to steer South Africa to 163-5 at lunch.
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