South Africa faced an uphill task to save the second Test and avoid a 2-0 whitewash of the short series after Sri Lanka had set them an improbable target of 490 to chase in the fourth innings on a spiteful SSC pitch that had started to turn and bounce appreciably.
By the close of the third day South Africa who trail 1-0 were struggling at 139 for five wickets – their highest total in the series - with the Lankan spinners who have dominated throughout having captured all of them. South Africa are still a massive 351 runs behind with five wickets in hand and two days left in the Test.
Putting up staunch resistance was Theunis de Bruyn who was unbeaten on 45 having hit seven fours (largely through sweeps) in his 97-ball innings. With him was Temba Bavuma on 14.
Sri Lanka who ran through the South African batting in the first innings for 124 with their three-prong spin attack of Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Dananjaya once again relied on them to pick up the five wickets that have fallen so far in the second innings.
Perera celebrating his 36th birthday yesterday had an unforgettable day when he dismissed a batsman twice with a no-ball.
The fortunate batsman was opener Dean Elgar who was given three innings but failed to capitalise on them and managed to score only 37.
At five he was dropped by Dilruwan Perera at square leg off Herath and then was bowled middle stump by a Dilruwan Perera no-ball attempting a big sweep. Then at 23 he was recalled by the umpires after he had left the field when it was pointed out by the third umpire that he was caught behind off another Perera no-ball. It was an embarrassing moment for the incoming batsman Hashim Amla who had almost reached the crease and had to eventually return to the dressing room.
This new rule of third umpires checking for no-balls after dismissals was introduced by the ICC at the start of the Sri Lanka-New Zealand series at Pallekele in October 2012.
The rule reads: “If the delivery was not a fair delivery, the third umpire shall advise the on-field umpire by two-way radio who should recall the dismissed batsman, indicate that the batsman is not out and signal no-ball.”
Sri Lanka’s fielding which has been slick throughout the series floundered during the South African second innings with Mathews flooring Markram at five off Herath although it did not prove expensive.
Amla was beaten and bowled off stump by a Herath special that beat his forward defence and Faf du Plessis and Keshav Maharaj was consumed off successive deliveries by Dananjaya.
In the series so far none of the South African batsmen has shown confidence playing against spin. They have not got past the 150-run mark in any of their three previous completed innings being dismissed for totals of 126, 73 and 124.
Sri Lanka who resumed at their overnight total of 151-3 dragged their second innings till 70 minutes after lunch before finally closing their innings at 275-5.
Although it was tedious batting it was Test cricket at its best. It gave batsmen like Angelo Mathews and Roshen Silva who are short of runs in the series an opportunity to get back into form.
Mathews was not all that convincing in his 147-ball knock for 71 that comprised seven fours and Silva was unbeaten on 32 off 99 balls when the innings closed. The pair added 64 for the fifth wicket.
The early part of the batting was dominated by the in-form Dimuth Karunaratne who missed out on a Test hundred when he was dismissed for a well composed 85 off 136 balls (12 fours). A rare lapse of concentration saw Karunaratne chase a ball from Ngidi outside his off stump and offer a thin edge to wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.
It was de Kock’s 150th dismissal and made him the quickest to the mark in 35 Tests, one Test less than Australian wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist (36) and three less than South African Mark Boucher (38). Karunaratne and Mathews put on 63 for the fourth wicket.