The morning session for the Proteas was a gruelling and painstaking one. This was going to be one hell of a long day.
Sri Lanka’s overnight batsmen Karunaratne & Mathews found life very easy out there against the tired legs of South Africa’s bowling attack.
Sri Lanka put on 86 runs in the 1st session and Karunaratne was the only man dismissed, to Lungi Nigid with his 1st ball of the day. Upon taking this catch, Quinton de Kock got his 150th Test dismissal and became the fastest wicket-keeper to do so, in his 34th Test, overtaking Adam Gilchrist, who got to the milestone in 36 Tests.
Karunaratne has had a remarkable series, his scores have been, 158*, 60, 53 & 85 today. He has shown the South African batsmen all they needed to know about how to construct a Test match innings against a quality bowling attack. Pity that given all the time they were in the field watching him amass so many runs, they didn’t take note of the lesson he was providing.
South Africa had chances in the field. Catches falling short and fielders in the most awful fielding positions I have seen on a cricket field, all meant that chances went begging. Aiden Markram, for some reason, decided that he needed to follow Joe Root’s example of fielding on his knees. He was not able to move quickly enough when a chance came and only then moved back to a more traditional fielding stance. The horse had bolted.
Angelo Mathews then brought up his 29th Test match fifty as Sri Lanka piled on the runs and misery. He was eventually out for 71 to a good, low catch from captain Faf du Plessis, which gave Maharaj his 12th wicket of the match. What an absolute champion Maharaj has been, he bowled 80.1 overs throughout this Test match. What a colossal effort.
Sri Lanka eventually declared on 275-5, which set South Africa the highly improbable target of 490 to win the Test. With 10 wickets in hand and over 2 days remaining, I had hopes that South Africa, if they just applied themselves, could actually pull this off.
The chase started well enough, Elgar & Markram had put on their highest opening stand of the series, 23, before Markram was dismissed for 14. Elgar had Lady Luck on his side, he was given no less than 3 chances, dropped, bowled off a no-ball and then, the most bizarre dismissal, he was dismissed, had walked off the field and the new man, Hashim Amla was already on the field, when umpires called Elgar back on because birthday boy Perera had bowled yet another no-ball. Elgar survived again. Surely with so many chances, this was going to be Elgar’s innings. The universe was on his side, it wanted him to score big. Right?
Sadly no, Elgar made a gritty 37 but eventually, Perera got his man.
Elgar & Theunis de Bruyn stood in the highest partnership of the innings, 57 before Elgar was dismissed. Throughout their partnership, they looked composed and ready for a fight. It gave me hope that they had a game plan, a smart one, and they were actually working towards it.
The inevitable collapse then ensued.
Amla (6), Faf (7), & Maharaj (0) came and went, to leave South Africa on the perilous position of 113-5. The end looked in sight but de Bruyn was still going strong at the other end, defiant, he stood not out on 45 by close of play. Whilst I very much like de Bruyn, I was concerned about his batting ability against Sri Lanka’s bowling but he impressed me immensely. Bavuma joined him and together they had put on an unbeaten 26 run partnership by close of play.
With two days remaining, South Africa will start day 4 needing another 351 runs to win the match and draw the series. As much of an optimist I might be, even I know this is unlikely. But whilst de Bruyn and Bavuma are out there, the hope will remain.