The interesting thing about insecurity is that it exposes self-defense mechanisms. Tortured by spin all through the series, each of the South African batsmen brought their respective plans out, only to fail again. Faf du Plessis came down the track. Temba Bavuma pre-meditated. Dean Elgar rode on his luck. Keshav Maharaj had none.
Amidst all of them, Theunis de Bruyn stood out. Being able to pick the variations and turn of the spinners, in his secure zone, he played each ball to its merit and left the field at the end of the day unbeaten on 45. More than just the runs, it is as assured an innings as seen so far by a touring batsman in the series. Even though South Africa find themselves tottering at 139 for 5 at Stumps on Day 3, courtesy de Bruyn, they have managed to put up their best batting show of the series in the final sessionon Sunday.
Victory was out of sight the moment they folded up for 124 in their first outing, providing another evidence that their failings against spin were still intact. And thereafter, with each passing run, Sri Lanka simply took the game beyond them. A 490-run target, in current circumstances, is beyond known realms. And with two and a half days of play remaining, even the possibility of a draw is a hope they would rather not hold on to.
Yet they came out, struggled but put up a fight. The most entertaining passage of play came when Dean Elgar had combined with de Bruyn in a half-century stand. The southpaw who was dropped earlier in his innings by Dilruwan Perera, was given two more reprieves by the offspinner. On both occasions, he was dismissed off no-balls. Bowled the first time, and caught behind the next. In fact, his second dismissal led to a bizarre incident as he was called back from the dressing room when the on-field umpires were relayed the information that the bowler had overstepped.
However, given his pain while dealing against the spinners, especially Dilruwan, even luck couldn’t take him far. The fact that it took him three lives to notch up 37, before eventually getting trapped by the offie, is enough evidence of his misery.
Hashim Amla’s lost mojo against spin isn’t new anymore. And it took Rangana Herath to deliver a classic left-arm spinner’s delivery which gripped and turned to knock the top of off-stump and send the senior batsman back. The only saving grace for Amla in his dismissal was that for once he wasn’t out caught at short leg.
The manner of dismissals changed but not the tale of South Africa’s struggle. Faf du Plessis’s dismissal was orchestrated by another inside edge, which hit his leg before lobbing to Angelo Mathews at slip. If four wickets weren’t enough for the hosts, they quickly made it five with Dananjaya trapping Keshav Maharaj. The decision to send a nightwatchman with 25 minutes of play remaining was bizarre in itself, and the fact that he was dismissed off the first ball only made it look worse.
Bavuma, who walked out to save the hat-trick, employed sweeps and reverse sweeps quite unconvincingly but remained safe to allow South Africa to go to stumps without any further damage.
Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka continued their dominance with the bat. Led by Angelo Mathews’s 29th Test fifty, they added 124 runs to their overnight score – losing only two wickets in the process. The proceeding was slow by the hosts as they didn’t target quick runs. However, they nudged the ball around in gaps to keep the scoreboard moving.
Mathews stitched consecutive half-century stands with Dimuth Karunaratne and Roshen Silva respectively before becoming Keshav Maharaj’s third victim of the innings. The left-arm spinner finished with 12 wickets in the match – three less than the total wickets the visitors managed to bag in the second Test.
More than one hour into the second session, Sri Lanka declared their innings on 275 for 5.
South Africa, who need 351 more runs to win, may well be out of the contest, but in de Bruyn they have finally managed to unearth ONE good player of spin. That is, so far, their takeaway of the day, of the Test and of the tour.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 338 & 275/5 (Dimuth Karunartne 85, Angelo Mathews 71; Keshav Maharaj 3-154) lead South Africa 124 & 139/5 (Theunis de Bruyn 45*, Dean Elgar 37; Akila Dananjaya 2-35, Rangana Hearth 2-54) by 350 runs
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