Sri Lanka trailed South Africa by 248 runs with only five second-innings wickets in hand at the end of day four at St George’s Park.
Wickets were hard to come by on day four at St George’s Park. The pitch offered little assistance to the bowlers, and the fielding side was made to toil for any reward. As it was, South Africa claimed just five Sri Lankan wickets in 83 overs.
It’s for this reason that Faf du Plessis must feel vindicated with his decision to bat on and set Sri Lanka an ‘impossible’ target of 488 runs. Some felt that Du Plessis should have declared late on day three. Others believed that the South Africans should have declared overnight and bowled at Sri Lanka first thing on day four.
As it was, Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock added 129 runs for the sixth wicket. The pair scored at close to five runs an over. When De Kock was dismissed halfway through the first session on day four, Du Plessis announced the declaration.
The Sri Lankan openers then proceeded to frustrate the South Africans for 32 overs. The pitch had dried out significantly and seaming deliveries were few and far between. At one point, it seemed as if the South Africans had run out of ideas.
But two mistakes by the Sri Lankans allowed the hosts to make inroads. There was a mix up between Kausal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne, and JP Duminy was quick to react from his fielding position on the offside.
Duminy whipped the ball in to De Kock, who dislodged the bails and completed the dismissal. Not long afterwards, Kusal Perera was out flashing at a wide delivery by Keshav Maharaj.
Kagiso Rabada tested Silva and Kusal Mendis with a fierce spell of fast bowling. The youngster had Silva trapped lbw with his second ball after tea. It was a timely and important strike for South Africa.
Mendis then proceeded to play with control and confidence, reaching his 50 off 75 balls. He and captain Angelo Mathews put on 75 for the fourth wicket, and appeared to be well on top of the seamers and Maharaj.
But a rash stroke by Mendis handed Rabada his second wicket. The dismissal was a big blow to Sri Lanka’s hopes of survival.
The Proteas put down a couple of chances in the field during the final session on day four. When Rabada held onto a simple chance late in the day – a catch that marked the end of the dangerous Dinesh Chandimal and Maharaj’s second wicket – they celebrated wildly.
One wouldn’t bet on the visitors to win the game from here. They would need to record the highest fourth innings total in Test history to reach the target of 488.
Sri Lanka will struggle to survive for three sessions on day five. While they have five wickets left and the pitch has flattened out, they don’t have any recognised batsmen to come. One more dismissal, and the Proteas will be into the Sri Lankan bowlers and within sight of a victory.
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 406-6 declared – Cook 117, De Kock 69, Du Plessis 67 not out, De Silva 2-91
SL 2nd innings 240-5– Mathews 58 not out, Mendis 58, Silva 48, Rabada 2-72
Sri Lanka need 248 runs to win