SA end Day 3 on top despite disappointments for Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma
PRETORIA – In the context of recent years of batting famine, one really shouldn’t quibble with the seventh highest Test total made by a South African team.
But Faf du Plessis and to a lesser extent Temba Bavuma provided some reasons to do just that Monday. Leaving aside that this is a team sport and they had placed their team in a very strong position, the opportunity for individual reward presented itself, but neither could take it.
For Du Plessis in particular it was agonising – Dean Elgar, who knows precisely the feeling of being dismissed for 199, didn’t bother hiding his disappointment on the steps of the home dressing room. Du Plessis had played authoritatively and smartly, having initially had to dig South Africa out of a hole after they lost two quick wickets on Sunday afternoon.
Sri Lanka sensed an opportunity then, but Du Plessis in combination with Bavuma snuffed it out. The pitch too was offering plenty of assistance to the seam bowlers and as the match heads into its fourth day, uneven bounce will play a role just as it did with the wicket of Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne.
The South African batsmen took the opportunity to rip the initiative from the tourists’ grasp. Adding 179 for the fifth wicket, Du Plessis and Bavuma were each on course for a hundred against a battered and bruised Sri Lankan attack. Already missing Dhananjaya de Silva with a torn left thigh muscle and Kusan Rajitha with what looked like a groin ailment, on Monday Sri Lanka also lost fast bowler Lahiru Kumara and for a period leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, who’d damaged himself diving to make a stop on the boundary.
That allowed South Africa to assume total control, while individual milestones, so important in lifting the morale of a dressing room that has known mostly disappointment in the Test format in the last 18 months, could be sought relatively comfortably.
So much has been said and written about Bavuma only having one Test hundred to his name, you wouldn’t begrudge him forcing the umpire to make a decision given the opportunity for the milestone in these circumstances. That he made that decision himself, and walked, while subsequent evidence indicated he could have continued batting, is indicative of his own personal code of ethics.
For Du Plessis, it’s a case of knowing he’s much closer to the end of his Test career, than the beginning. Chances to get a milestone like a double hundred rarely present themselves and in the case of his career, he’d never even been passed 150 before.
He’d already given his teammates one big moment of satisfaction by bringing up the first hundred by a South African batsman in over a year. That clearly underlined his continuing value to this Test side. His experience is crucial and in terms of setting an example for the rookies, and providing much-needed support to the overburdened Quinton de Kock, there is no one better placed.
His teammates know and appreciate his input, which is why they lived every moment of those runs in the 190s with him. And why they were so devastated when one short of becoming the 16th player to score a double hundred for South Africa he slapped an innocuous delivery from Hasaranga to Karunaratne at mid-on.
Du Plessis was crestfallen, as was the South African dressing room.
The match situation will assuage the hosts’ heartbreak. As will the fact, that after a couple of years of mediocrity with the bat, they’ve shown – albeit against hugely handicapped opponents – that they can score big totals and that they are also capable of making hundreds.
Sri Lanka 396 all out (Dinesh Chandimal 85, Dhananjaya de Silva 79, Lutho Sipamla 4/76, Wiaan Mulder 3/69)
South Africa 621 all out (Faf du Plessis 19, Dean Elgar 95, Wanindu Hasaranga 4/171, Vishwa Fernando 3/129)
Sri Lanka 65/2 (Kusal Perera 33, Dinesh Chandimal 21, Lungi Ngidi 2/28)
Sri Lanka trail by 196 runs