Vernon Philander was the unlikely hero with bat in hand, surviving 98 deliveries to help South Africa bat out day five in Colombo and win the Test series.
The result of the Test and the series went down to the final session. Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera resumed their marathon spells after the tea interval as Sri Lanka tried to squeeze in as many overs as possible.
Hashim Amla, who was visibly struggling with cramp, attempted to drive Perera through the covers in the fourth over of the session. It didn’t turn as much as expected and flew to slip off the outside edge. Amla was on his way for 25, leaving South Africa on 105-5 with a full session still to bat.
Not to be outdone, Herath struck soon after Amla’s departure. Faf du Plessis did well to even get an edge on another viciously turning delivery that looped gently through to slip. He departed for 10 and was replaced by Philander with the Proteas on 110-6.
The new ball was taken in the 81st over, but the bowling went unchanged. It nearly paid off immediately as Philander survived a very close lbw appeal, which stuck with the umpires call upon referral.
Rain stopped play in the 87th over with South Africa on 118-6. JP Duminy and Philander left the field and enjoyed a 30 minute break. Upon their return the Proteas needed to negotiate a further 90 minutes with four wickets in hand to draw the Test and secure a series victory.
In the first over of the final hour, Perera trapped Duminy plumb in front. Dale Steyn joined Philander in the middle as the bowlers would have to survive an hour to stave off defeat.
The two repelled the spin threat for nearly 40 minutes, but Herath eventually made the breakthrough. He got Steyn caught behind in his 41st over to give him five wickets in the innings. Imran Tahir walked in at No 10 with a minimum of 5.2 overs left to play.
The hosts rushed through their overs and made sure that they got a few bonus overs in the last hour. Philander stood firm, though, and Tahir hung in to finish the day on 159-8 and secure the draw. The result means that South Africa win the series 1-0 and regain the No 1 spot on the ICC Test rankings.
Earlier in the day, a rain storm forced an early lunch break with the Proteas on 55-2. As a result, the afternoon and evening sessions were both extended to account for the rain delays, and Sri Lanka came out determined to make the most of that extra time given to them.
Relying heavily on Herath and Perera, the hosts bowled an average of 22 overs per hour, well above the ICC standard of 15. Amla and Quinton de Kock came out after the break and, while Amla stonewalled, De Kock played his natural game, at a slightly slower rate, taking advantage of the rare bad ball and advancing his score to 37.
He finally fell to a sharply turning ball from Herath, which ripped from outside off to brush his glove, pop up off his pad and into the hands of the backward short leg. That brought AB de Villiers to the crease, and over the next 24 overs he and Amla set about trying to block everything that came their way.
Both were gifted a lifeline in that period, with Amla being dropped at slip when he was on 13, and De Villiers surviving an lbw shout that should have been given when he was on 10.
The pair only managed to put on 25 runs in their partnership, but importantly ate up more than an hour of the day. Herath broke the stand with a slow, loopy ball that turned just enough to go past the outside edge of De Villiers’ bat and clatter into the stumps. He went for 12, made off 67 balls.
Du Plessis, who had been pushed down the order to No 6, came in, and was given out lbw first ball. However, he reviewed and replays showed it was missing leg stump. The decision was overturned and he and Amla continued to block out the session. Amla faced 146 balls for his 24, while Du Plessis reached the tea break on six.
This morning there were only seven overs of play possible, with rain interrupting proceedings twice. The first rain break came just 4.1 overs into the day, with the Proteas having added nine runs to their overnight score, without losing a wicket. The players were off the field for around 20 minutes, before returning under dark skies.
The break was beneficial for the bowling side, as Dean Elgar was bowled by Perera just two balls after the players had come back on the field. Amla came out to face the music, but he and De Kock only had to face 2.3 overs before the rain returned, this time with a vengeance, to force the early lunch break.
Report compiled by Dan Gillespie and Gareth Stevens.