South Africa weathered a storm to reach stumps on 98-3, after dismissing Sri Lanka for 421 earlier in the day.
After a reserved start to the final session on day two, Dilruwan Perera enticed Hasim Amla to drive and found the outside edge. It flew between slip and keeper before running away to the boundary and taking Amla to 14. It was a sharp chance and one that the Proteas skipper will desperately want to make the Sri Lankans pay for.
Faf du Plessis and Amla survived the first hour of the session, taking drinks on 55-2. It was slow going, with the innings scoring rate still at a sluggish 1.6 runs per over.
Kithuruwan Vithanage came into the attack to bowl leg-spinners after the brief stoppage. He broke the stalemate by encouraging the batsmen to play a few shots. His introduction would either leak runs or produce a wicket, it proved to be the latter.
Vithanage didn’t make the breakthrough himself, but he got the batsmen into a more attacking mindset. At the other end Suranga Lakmal was getting the ball to duck back into the right-handers and Du Plessis helped one down the leg side. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough bat on it and Niroshan Dickwella took an athletic diving catch. Du Plessis was on his way for 36 with South Africa reduced to 71-3.
After conceding 17 off his four overs, Vithanage was pulled out of the attack and the pressure was applied on Amla and the new man AB de Villiers. South Africa’s two premier batsmen did what was required and made sure that no further damage was suffered.
The Proteas reached stumps at 98-3, still trailing by 323 runs. The real problem is that the run rate is only 1.88, meaning that they didn’t make a significant dent in the deficit while the pitch was best for batting.
They may have missed a trick, as it will become more difficult to score as the wicket disintegrates, and a draw could be the best possible outcome moving forward. Amla and De Villiers will resume battle on 46 and 11 respectively on day three.
Earlier in the day, South Africa wrapped up the last five wickets for 35 runs to bowl Sri Lanka out for 421 after lunch, but then lost both openers before tea. Amla started the second session with Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir. Five runs were nurdled to bring up the 400 as Niroshan Dickwella and Perera played themselves in after the break.
The bowling combination eventually paid dividends. Morkel built up pressure from one end and when Perera tried to target Tahir, he succeeded only in picking out Amla at mid-on while trying to drive down the ground. He departed for 12, giving Tahir his first wicket of the match, and leaving the hosts on 404-7.
Dickwella’s impressive debut innings ended on 72 when he tried to take a quick run to the keeper and steal the strike. Quinton de Kock threw a glove to the ground and his direct hit found the batsman well short of his ground.
In pursuit of quick runs, the tail threw the bat around. Ajantha Mendis fell for the cause, edging one to De Kock, as Vernon Philander picked up his first wicket of the series. He then picked up his second wicket in identical fashion. Suranga Lakmal flashed outside the off-stump and De Kock completed a regulation catch to end the innings on 421.
Rangana Herath was the spinner chosen to share the new ball with Lakmal as Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar had an hour to negotiate before tea. He struck immediately as Petersen gave his wicket away softly. The opener tried to nudge one on to the leg-side, against the turn, and chipped an easy return catch to the bowler off the leading edge. Petersen was on his way for two, leaving South Africa on 3-1 in the second over.
Faf du Plessis joined Elgar in the middle and together they saw off Lakmal. Perera replaced the only specialist seamer in the Sri Lankan team as early as the eighth over and trapped Elgar in the short-leg trap off his third delivery. Elgar went for a single, meaning that Amla walked to the crease with the scoreboard reading 13-2.
Amla and Du Plessis survived the rest of the session, taking South Africa to 23-2. It was slow going as the run rate was at a mere 1.43 for the innings at the break.
The morning of day two was another session dominated by Sri Lanka, as they advanced to 395-6 at lunch. It must all be seeming so familiar for Amla, Dale Steyn and De Villiers. They are the three men left from the side that witnessed Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara pile on 624 runs in Colombo eight years ago.
The numbers aren’t as extreme this time around, but the mood in the camp will be similar after Sri Lanka compiled 90 runs on the second morning.
Coming out on day two with a ball that was just a few overs old, and with the prospect of some movement off the seam, the Proteas would have been hoping to claim a few wickets in the early part of the day.
Instead they witnessed a veteran and a debutant playing with ease on a pitch that resembled a day three or four track. Jayawardene picked up right where he left off on day one, and reached his 150 half an hour into the day’s play.
After the drinks break Amla brought his spinners back on, but neither JP Duminy nor Tahir could take advantage of the turning conditions. The Sri Lankan pair welcomed the slow stuff, seeing off the good balls, and pouncing on the loose deliveries.
Given that neither batsman looked like he was going to be bowled out, a piece of brilliance was needed in the field, and Petersen provided it. He threw down the stumps after Jayawardene had swept Duminy, and chosen to run the first one sluggishly. The direct hit was sent upstairs and it showed Jayawardene was out by half a foot. He departed for a magnificent 165, and a partnership of 100 was broken.
Perera came in and showed intent from the start, hitting his second ball for six off Duminy. Despite a couple of lbw shouts from Tahir, the Proteas couldn’t get another wicket in the session.
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