Tea: Sri Lanka 205 and 118 for 2 (Silva 48*, Mendis 14*) need another 370 runs to beat South Africa 286 and 406 for 6 dec (Cook 117, de Kock 69, du Plessis 67*, Elgar 52)
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Fernando: Kusal Perera let everyone down
An opening partnership of 87 between Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva gave Sri Lanka the beginnings of hope of pulling off a fourth-innings chase of 488 before two wickets in the space of 15 balls reminded them of the enormity of their task. Sri Lanka were 118 for 2 at tea on day four, with Silva batting on 48 and Kusal Mendis alongside him on 14.
On a pitch that was doing a lot less than it had on the first two days, Karunaratne and Silva had comfortably surpassed previous Sri Lankan opening partnerships in South Africa, both in terms of length and output, before a run-out ended it. Silva pushed Keshav Maharaj into the covers, and set off immediately. Karunaratne responded after a moment’s hesitation, and that little stutter was enough to find him short of his crease when he dived to beat JP Duminy’s throw to the keeper.
Then Kusal Perera, his place at No. 3 in question after his dismissal to a wild slash in the first innings, fell to another injudicious stroke, top-edging a cut against the turn off Maharaj when he was getting consistent turn and bounce out of the rough.
Suddenly, South Africa were all over the batsmen, conceding only one run in four overs before Mendis broke the spell by sweeping Maharaj for fours in successive overs. In between, though, Sri Lanka nearly lost another, Mendis needing to dive acrobatically to regain his crease after Kyle Abbott’s fingertips brushed a firm straight drive from Silva onto the stumps.
The straight drive, a shot he played with authority right through his innings, was a barometer of Silva’s solidity. He had resisted for 58 balls in the first innings before falling lbw to an in-ducker from Vernon Philander, and South Africa’s seamers looked to test him constantly with incoming deliveries at various lengths. Kagiso Rabada’s extra zip and bounce troubled him on a few occasions – he gloved a rising ball from him before lunch, taking his bottom hand off the handle to soften the impact and help the ball fall short of Quinton de Kock diving to his right behind the wicket, and took a few hits on the body, including one to the shoulder when he ducked into a bouncer from wide of the crease – but he was secure otherwise. Where the task of surviving a constant attack of outswingers made him susceptible to the incoming delivery in the first innings, his balance and alignment were much surer now, thanks to the adjustments he had made to his technique and to the fact that the ball wasn’t swinging and seaming as much.
Karunaratne, apart from a couple of leaden-footed slash-and-misses, was alive to the danger of playing away from his body. The seamers looked to get him nibbling with the angle across him, and then tried to go around the wicket as well, but he handled both lines well, making sure his hands didn’t follow the ball when he was beaten. He was just getting into stride when he was dismissed, having moved from 20 off 90 balls to 43 off 113. He had hit three fours in that period of acceleration, including a sweetly-timed flick off Philander and a reverse-sweep off Maharaj immediately after the left-arm spinner had got one to spit at him out of the rough.
Earlier, Faf du Plessis and de Kock completed half-centuries and stretched their overnight sixth-wicket partnership to 129 before South Africa declared. The pair added 55 runs in the first 10.5 overs of the fourth morning, the declaration arriving when Rangana Herath dismissed de Kock for 69. De Kock was lbw, missing a sweep against a ball that was probably too full and too close to off stump to play the shot against safely.
Du Plessis hit only three fours in an unbeaten 67 while still scoring at a strike rate of 77.90, a reflection of Sri Lanka’s defensive fields. With South Africa already 432 ahead at the start of play, the only question that remained to be answered was when the declaration would come. Sri Lanka had bowled 80 overs on day three, took the new ball immediately, and bowled four tight overs, Dushmantha Chameera and Suranga Lakmal only conceding nine runs in that time.
Du Plessis then punched Chameera to the cover boundary to signal a shift of gear, as South Africa took 46 off the last 39 balls of their innings while barely breaking a sweat, the highlight of that period two sweetly timed inside-out drives from de Kock in one over from Dhananjaya de Silva.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo