Dean Elgar scored 95 as the Proteas ate away at Sri Lanka’s sizeable first innings total to end day two of the Test within touching distance.
Elgar worked through a difficult period at the top of the innings to come within touching distance of a 13th Test century. Ultimately it wasn’t to be, but his contribution and that of Aiden Markram, who arrested a run of bad Test form to score 68, set the platform for a Proteas fightback after Sri Lanka posted 396.
The opening pair shared a 141-run stand, negotiating the new ball well, although it would be remiss not to note that the Sri Lankans bowled a high percentage of bad deliveries. This allowed Elgar and Markram to score at nearly five per over in the period between dismissing the tourists and lunch.
They continued their run plunder thereafter, until Markram was knocked off. Elgar and Rassie Van der Dussen shared a 59-run second-wicket stand, but the former’s dismissal set in motion a collapse that saw the Proteas lose three wickets for just 20 runs, including that of skipper Quinton de Kock for just 18.
However, Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma showed excellent composure and tactical intelligence in the rebuilding job. They put on 94 by the close of play, Du Plessis going to his 22nd half century, while Bavuma stuck around defiantly, scoring 41* at stumps. The Proteas are 317/4, trailing by 79 runs and in a strong position to post a lead, should this partnership endure.
Earlier, the Proteas came into day two hoping to brush aside an ordinary first day with the ball. Sri Lanka were 340/6 overnight, and the Proteas would have planned to limit the tourists to a handful of runs, especially since the new ball was just five overs old.
Instead they went at five runs per over for the entire first hour, allowing the Sri Lankans to get to 396, thanks in large part to undisciplined bowling for the bulk of that period.
Lutho Sipamla was introduced and produced a spell that broke the Sri Lankans’ resistance, grabbing three wickets to finish with solid debut figures of 4/76.
While they finished strongly, the Proteas’ bowling attack looked impotent for the most part, their cause not helped by the fact that they conceded 36 extras, including six wides and five no-balls.
This all contributed to Sri Lanka achieving their highest-ever Test score in South Africa. This on a wicket that offered plenty of assistance as a reward for landing it in the right areas consistently.