The Proteas will have to bat out day five with nine wickets in hand after bad light stopped play early on day four.
It was a day of cricket dominated by Sri Lanka. Coming in with the score on 11-0, they posted 229-8 in their second innings after solid half-centuries from Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews.
Sangakkara provided the impetus for the Sri Lankan second innings, keeping the run rate above four for most of the day. His innings ended on 72 from 90 balls when he pushed at one too many from Morne Morkel, and was caught behind.
Mathews was the other big contributor for Sri Lanka, finishing unbeaten on 63 when he decided to declare Sri Lanka’s innings with the home side 368 runs ahead.
Morkel was the pick of the bowlers for South Africa, taking 4-45 in his 9.4 overs, while Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir took two wickets each.
Play was interrupted repeatedly during the day, the first time by rain, with the afternoon session starting an hour and 15 minutes late, and tea being taken 20 minutes early due to bad light. So it was no surprise when bad light ended the day’s play with South Africa just over an hour into their innings.
The Proteas, facing the prospect of having to bat out 128 overs to save the Test, had started very cautiously against Sri Lanka’s spinners, with just one scoring shot in the first eight overs. Alviro Petersen fell to Rangana Herath off the first ball of the ninth over, for a 25-ball duck. After a poor series, the opener’s place must be in jeopardy.
Quinton de Kock was promoted up the order to No 3 in place of Faf du Plessis, a tactic possibly designed to shield him from the worst of the turn on day five, which is coming out of the rough just in front of the left-handers.
He and Elgar batted out the day with a bit more intent than was shown in the first period, to leave South Africa on 38-1 going into the final day.
The Proteas’ target is ostensibly 369, leaving them needing 331 runs to win, but the reality is that they will have to bat out the day tomorrow, a tough ask given the amount of turn the spinners are managing to extract from the surface. Play will start 15 minutes early, in order to try and make up for some of the lost time on day four, so the Proteas will need to bat for 98 overs to save the Test, and win the series 1-0.