Stephen Cook scored 117 as South Africa stretched their lead to 432 at stumps on day three at St George’s Park.
The Proteas have played themselves into a game-winning position. Unless St George’s Park is hit by a significant spell of rain on days four and five, South Africa should win the Test and take a 1-0 lead in the three-game series.
The bad news for Sri Lanka is that good weather is forecast for the rest of the match. South Africa have already amassed a 432-run lead, and it will take a record-breaking performance by the visitors to chase the final target down.
As it stands, Australia hold the record for the highest successful run chase at St George’s Park (271 against South Africa in 1997). West Indies hold the record for the highest successful run chase in all Tests (418 against Australia in 2003). This Sri Lankan side is unlikely to threaten those records.
The Proteas played the better cricket of the two sides on day three. Indeed, as the day progressed, the hosts grew in confidence. By contrast, Sri Lanka lacked intensity from the outset and failed to lift themselves in the latter stages.
Cook will hog the headlines following a beautifully paced knock of 117, and rightly so. Yet, it was Vernon Philander who started the Protea fire with the very first delivery of the day.
It was all Dhananjaya de Silva could do to find an edge to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. Five balls later, Philander had Suranga Lakmal caught at mid-on. That dismissal marked his 11th five-wicket haul in Tests, and he finished with figures of 5-45.
Sri Lanka finished on 205, their batsmen having lasted for just 35 minutes on day three. As a result, the Proteas went into their second innings with an 81-run lead.
Not that Cook or Dean Elgar got the memo about the St George’s Park track being a seam-bowler’s paradise. After amassing 104 for the first wicket in the first innings, Cook and Elgar clubbed together for a 116-run partnership in the second.
Lakmal dismissed Elgar and nearly had a second wicket when Cook, then on 62, flashed at a wide delivery. Unfortunately for the visitors, De Silva put the relatively easy chance down in the gully. Cook and Hashim Amla, who played with some freedom, then went on to score 105 runs for the second wicket.
The Proteas were well and truly on top by that point. Cook reached 100 off 152 balls shortly before the break.
Amla perished on the stroke of tea, but his departure did little to curb the Proteas’ momentum. That said, Amla’s dismissal will go down in history as the 10,000th time a Test player has been given out lbw.
Cook passed his previous best Test score of 115, and then edged a Dushmantha Chameera delivery to the wicketkeeper. His frustration was evident as he left the field. The opportunity to score 150 or more was there for the taking against a limited Sri Lankan attack.
The Proteas lost three wickets in all during the final session on day three. However, this was to be expected from a side looking to up the run-rate and boost an already impressive lead. Captain Faf du Plessis and De Kock went after the bowling the dying stages as if it was an ODI contest rather than a five-day tussle.
It remains to be seen whether South Africa will declare overnight, or if they will continue to pile on the pain early on day four.
SA 1st innings 286 – Duminy 63, Cook 59, Lakmal 5-63, Herath 2-48
SL 1st innings 205 – De Silva 43, Mathews 39, Philander 5-45, Abbott 3-63,
SA 2nd innings 351-5 – Cook 117, Elgar 52, Amla 48, Lakmal 1-56
South Africa lead by 432 runs