The Proteas made the Sri Lankans toil in Colombo on day four, but the hosts fought back just before lunch.
With their overnight position once again perilous at 139-5, Theunis de Bruyn (45 not out) and Temba Bavuma (14 not out) faced a huge task when they resumed the South African innings. Both batters were desperate to consolidate their place in the side, which added to the pressure they were under in terms of the match situation.
The two batted with great determination and purpose through the morning session, defending with caution but not being afraid to sweep or even reverse sweep when the opportunity presented itself. De Bruyn went to his half-century off 118 balls, with Bavuma hot on his heels, taking just 69 balls to register his 11th Test fifty.
Having brought up the first half-centuries for the Proteas in the series, the pair set about their next task, which was bringing up their century stand, which followed shortly, off 182 balls. Bavuma’s share of the spoils was 52 runs.
A pleasant irony of this series was hearing the TV commentators mentioning that the Sri Lankan bowlers were looking forward to the new ball shortly before lunch so that their spinners could again try to get the upper hand in the match.
Sadly, the new ball wasn’t needed to make the breakthrough, as Sri Lanka struck shortly before lunch. Rangana Herath changed ends and succeeded in drawing Bavuma forward as the batsman got the faintest of edges through to the keeper.
Bavuma’s brave innings of 63 came off 98 balls, including four fours, and his stand with De Bruyn was worth 123 as the pair batted together for just under 38 overs to offer South Africa’s best batting performance of the series.
Quinton de Kock got off the mark by reverse-sweeping Herath for four off the first ball and followed up the next delivery with another reverse sweep for two as he bravely took the fight to the Sri Lankan bowlers. De Kock was unlucky to be trapped lbw just two balls away from the lunch break to a ball that was adjudged to be narrowly clipping the leg-stump.
De Bruyn went into lunch on 85 not out with all signs of victory now lost, and only the opportunity of playing for Protea pride and his maiden Test century lying in wait after the lunch break.
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