COLOMBO – South Africa have routinely found the venerable SSC to be the graveyard of their ambitions.
For Saturday was certainly not the first time down the years that the Proteas have been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by cunning deviations and unexpected drift of the ball on the island’s capital.
But yet the pure repulsiveness of their third consecutive batting capitulation of this series on Saturday must rank among the lowest moments in Proteas’ history.
Where were all the promises in the build-up that they were ready? The mantra that they had learned their lessons and that the Galle cob-webs had been shaken off before this all-important series-decider.
Talk is cheap, and its currency is even lower on the sub-continent.
With a sequence of ill-advised strokes, in addition to the wizardry of Akila Dananjaya and Dilruwan Perera, South Africa were dismissed for 124 to concede a first-innings lead of 214.
This had come after Sri Lanka’s last-wicket stand had added a further 61 painstaking runs in the morning.
Why Sri Lankan captain Suranga Lakmal did not enforce the follow-on remains a mystery for the Proteas would in all likelihood have imploded yet again in the final session such was their feeble body language when the shadows lengthened at 5.30pm.
The only sane motivation being that the hosts wanted the satisfaction of grinding the Proteas into the infamous red SSC dust.
And that they duly enjoyed in a bountiful last two hours, bludgeoning a further 150/3 in 34 overs to enlarge their lead to 365 runs.
Having masterminded iconic series victories over World No 1 India and arch-rivals Australia at home in his first season in charge of the Proteas, coach Ottis Gibson has only enjoyed the sweet taste of success.
Saturday, though, was rather bitter. “This whole series... three days in Galle… and two days here. These five days have certainly been my toughest series so far!” the West Indian exclaimed.
“Clearly our batting hasn’t fired. We have very capable batsmen. World-class batsmen in our dressing-room.
“And they are hurting as well that they haven’t performed at the level that they have in the past here in Sri Lanka. The likes of Hashim (Amla) and Dean Elgar, especially who have got runs here before.
“There are couple of newbies also. Guys who are on their first tour of the sub-continent and finding out what it is all about.
“At the end of the day, we have to put up our hands and say that Sri Lanka have been far too good for us.”
Dananjaya, who is of the off-spin variety, deceived the Proteas utterly as much as they deceived themselves into thinking they could play him.
After frustrating the visitors with an audacious 43 not out at No 9 earlier the day, he returned to continue his torment even further with figures of 5/52.
Fellow “offie” Perera bagged another four to push his series-tally to 14, while Herath chipped in with the other scalp as the whole innings crumbled in just 34.5 overs.
Perera gets the last wicket. Rabada goes for 1. SA all out for 124 (34.5 ovs) and still trail by 214. Danajaya 5/52, Perera 4/40.
Sri Lanka will not enforce the follow-on. EARLY TEA HAS BEEN TAKEN. #SLvSA pic.twitter.com/HXXGboNq6e
Sri Lanka only required these three bowlers during that period, leaving seamer and captain Suranga Lakmal without a bowl for the second consecutive innings.
“I don’t think it is just the off-spinners… the one that gets the wickets, but the ones that create the pressure.
“Herath hasn’t taken many wickets, but he has bowled very economically. The guys around the bat also create a bit of theatre, and we haven’t been good enough to deal with it,” Gibson said.
Amidst all the doom and gloom, there should at least be a thought spared for the valiant Proteas left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.
WICKET. @keshavmaharaj16 gets the last wicket. Take a bow, you beauty! He ends with 41.1-10-129-9, the 2nd best Test bowling figures for South Africa. Herath edges the ball to Elgar and goes for 35. Sri Lanka all out for 338. #SLvSA pic.twitter.com/vzp834rrEs
The 28-year-old delivered a marathon 41.1 overs in Sri Lanka’s first innings – that’s 6.4 overs more than the entire period South Africa’s batsmen spent at the crease.
In the process, he finished with 9/129, which are the best figures by a South African bowler since readmission.
He was not done yet, turning his arm over for a further 11 overs in Sri Lanka’s second innings and claiming another two wickets to take his match tally to 11.
But like Maharaj had stated the previous day that “accolades mean a lot more when you can get the team to win a Test match”, this herculean effort will in all likelihood be in vain.
NUMBERS OF THE DAY
0: Dale Steyn is still wicketless in this Test and in search of one wicket to pass Shaun Pollock’s all-time Test record.
9/129: Keshav Maharaj’s figures are the best by a South African bowler since readmission.
18: The number of South African wickets that fallen to the Sri Lankan off-spinners in the series thus far.
126, 73, 124: South Africa’s totals in their three innings in this series.
9 000: Hashim Amla became the third South African after Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith to reach a career aggregate of more than 9 000 Test runs.
Second Test, Day 2
Sri Lanka: 338 (De Silva 60, Maharaj 9/129) and 151/3 (Gunathilaka 61, Karunaratne 59*; Maharaj 2/90)
South Africa: 124 (Du Plessis 48; Dananjaya 5/52, Perera 4/40)
Sri Lanka lead by 365 runs