DURBAN – South Africa hold all the aces in Durban at Kingsmead, but Sri Lanka have made them fight a lot harder than some had anticipated in this first Test.
At stumps on day three, the Proteas had three visiting wickets in the bag, with Sri Lanka in pursuit of an unlikely 304 to win.
The wicket, though slow, is starting to provide more assistance for the spinner, especially.
There was one particular delivery which got rid of an ominously set Quinton de Koc, that suggested that slow men can have a bigger say on the last two days.
De Kock had rushed to 55, again unfurling his range of cavalier shot-making, but he could do little with the sharp turn extracted by Lasith Embuldeniya. It hit the edge of a footmark, and spun viciously to nab him dead in front.
De Kock must have known he was stone dead, but he still chanced upon a review. Given his form, and his mood, the dressing-room would have likely forgiven him for that.
That De Kock ball also emphasised the quality of the 90 made by the skipper Faf du Plessis.
It was gritty, and most things that the De Kock delight was not. In that sense, they complemented each other perfectly in their stand of 96.
Given the frantic fall of wickets in clusters over all three days, that 96 stand for the fifth South African wicket was worth a lot more than the number might suggest.
It knocked the stuffing out of the visitors, built a wall too high for them to seriously consider climbing.
Du Plessis, for his considerable part, deserved to reach three figures in back-to-back matches, after his century at Newlands. His 90 was considered, but he still caught the eye with some sparkling drives.
The concentration, especially off the spinners, was quite something, and he again displayed a hunger for ugly runs.
Du Plessis had been an impassioned patron of the pitches that South Africa have produced all summer, so he knows well and truly that runs will not be easy to come by.
On Friday, on a Durban wicket that has been tougher to bat on – due to the lack of fluency – restraint has been a gift that many batsmen have lacked.
Du Plessis showed patches of Cape Town in his four-hour vigil, and he ensured Sri Lanka didn’t get a sniff. Not on his watch.
When the end of the Proteas innings came, it was all rather sudden. The tail, often able to hang around, were simply blown away.
Bad light has stopped play in Durban. SL end the day on 83/3 after 28 overs. Fernando 28*, Perera 12*, they trail by 221.— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) February 15, 2019
Olivier 1/3, Philander 1/13, Rabada 1/28. #ProteaFire #SAvSL pic.twitter.com/8xG3JYh2n1
Embuldeniya helped himself to a five-wicket haul on Test debut, with his own patience rewarded by some poor batting decisions.
The other star was Vishwa Fernando, who added four more scalps to his first-innings harvest and again impressed with his nagging length and curve. Sri Lanka, even in likely defeat, have found two bowlers to work with for the future.
Both have displayed an appetite for the big time, and have not been overwhelmed by starting out on such testing turf. It was their efforts that saw South Africa fold from 251/6 to 259 all out.
A match winning partnership? See if the Proteas can wrap up the first Castle Lager Test against Sri Lanka. Live at 10am, on SuperSport 2, SABC 3 and Radio 2000. Visit https://t.co/zFevN4NRSi for all the fixtures. Inspire the #ProteaFire. #SAvSL pic.twitter.com/uUuqhRfsMz— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) February 15, 2019
After that burst with the ball, Sri Lanka might again curse how they lost some of their wickets in the late afternoon, especially the casual manner in which Mendis tried to ramp Duanne Olivier over the slip cordon.
Given the phase of the game, and soon after a determined opening stand, it smacked of a lack of maturity. It was but a short passage of play, but it might have told the Proteas that the tourists had privately thrown in the towel.
There is bad weather hovering during the weekend, so Sri Lanka would do well to hang around and see what happens.@whamzam17
Independent on Saturday