Port Elizabeth: South Africa edged toward victory in the first test on Thursday as Sri Lanka went to stumps on Day 4 on 240-5 in its second innings, still 248 runs short of the victory target of 488 and with a full day to survive for a draw.
South Africa had to work for its wickets but was given a double boost near the end of the day. Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada forced out Kusal Mendis for 58 and Dinesh Chandimal gave away his wicket, caught trying to hit spinner Keshav Maharaj over the top, having been dropped while trying the same thing to the same bowler shortly before.
Rabada, with 2-72, and Maharaj, with 2-84, led the Proteas’ patient push toward a win and a 1-0 lead in the three-test series.
“We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch,” Maharaj said. “We’re willing to win in the final session of the last day.”
Sri Lanka showed fight after South Africa declared on 406-6, with an 87-run opening stand between Dimuth Karunaratne (43) and Kaushal Silva (48), Mendis’ half-century, and captain Angelo Mathews’ 58 not out.
But the tourists weren’t yet halfway to their target, and had their last two recognized batsmen at the crease. They also had three full sessions left to bat, after getting through 2 ½ on Thursday.
“We have to bat through the first session (on Friday),” Karunaratne said. “We have a chance but we have to get through the first session.”
South Africa broke the stubborn Karunaratne-Silva opening partnership with a run out, when JP Duminy combined with wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock to get Karunaratne. That ended Sri Lanka’s best opening partnership in a test in South Africa, and Sri Lanka’s second-best opening stand against South Africa anywhere.
Left-arm spinner Maharaj added the wicket of Kusal Perera, caught behind by De Kock two overs later, and Silva was out lbw to Rabada straight after tea.
South Africa bided their time as Mendis and Mathews built a 75-run stand for the fourth wicket. Late in the day, Rabada returned to the attack and forced out Mendis with a short, bouncing delivery that the batsman only guided off his bat to De Kock behind the stumps.
Chandimal was given a let-off when he tried to hit Maharaj down the ground. The ball lobbed up to Stephen Cook at mid-off, who dropped a simple catch. Chandimal tried to go over the top again soon after, miscued again, and was caught this time by Rabada to give the South Africans a bonus wicket six overs from stumps.
The target of 488 is likely to be out of reach for Sri Lanka despite the pitch apparently flattening out a little. The highest fourth-innings total at St. George’s Park, irrelevant of the result, is only 273.
At the start of the fourth day, South Africa declared its second innings on 406-6 less than an hour into the morning session, with captain Faf du Plessis deciding a lead of 487 runs was enough with more than 1 ½ days left to push for victory.
Du Plessis finished 67 not out in the Proteas’ second innings and made his declaration around 45 minutes into the morning session when partner De Kock was given out lbw for 69 to spinner Rangana Herath. That ended their overnight stand of 129 off 158 balls, the third century partnership of South Africa’s second innings, which gave the home team the outright advantage after a tussle for superiority over the first two days.