The collapse began in the first over after the break, when Jacques Rudolph’s resistance ended – and with it perhaps his recently-revived Test career, temporarily at least. As so often in his second coming at the Test level, he was caught in the slip cordon – this time nicking a wide delivery from Thisara Perera.
Jacques Kallis has been in patchy form recently, including a duck in the first innings, but his record in the second innings of Tests is unimpeachable. If South Africa were to salvage something from the Test, they needed another Kallis special. Unfortunately for him, there were no match-turning heroics as he top-edged a sweep on to his helmet to give short leg a catch. In his 149th Test, he bagged his first pair.
If that blow left South Africa unsteady, they were on the mat soon after as Amla, till then producing a masterclass in off-side strokeplay, was run out after attempting a kamikaze single. He punched the ball straight to mid-on and dashed across for the run though Ashwell Prince showed no interest, and stayed firmly at the non-striker’s end. Prince, with his Test career on the line, then had to face a lifter from Dilhara Fernando, that he could only glove towards slip. With South Africa at 116 for 5, the fans could start partying in Sri Lanka.
The Prince dismissal was an almost exact replica of Smith’s earlier in the day. Fernando, used as early as the ninth over this time after his delayed introduction in the first innings, started with his usual no-ball, raising snickers, but there was no laughing later in the over when he got a delivery to leap at Smith. The batsman attempted to ride the bounce, instead of dropping his hands and letting the ball through, and could only glove a catch to slip.
Besides Fernando, South Africa’s main worry was the left-arm spin of Herath. On Wednesday, South Africa had been given a glimpse of what was to come when two successive deliveries from Imran Tahir spun and kicked off a length to comfortably beat the batsman and the wicketkeeper. With the ball turning, Herath varied his flight and angle, to relentlessly probe the South African batsmen’s techniques. He was rewarded with the huge wicket of Kallis, and just before tea he added the scalp of Mark Boucher, another man whose place in the side is under scrutiny.
AB de Villiers gamely fought on, but there was little he could do to lift South Africa from their hopeless situation. He and Steyn defied the bowling for 34 overs – another reminder to the batting unit that failed twice in this match that the surface wasn’t unplayable.
Steyn had been central to South Africa’s promising start to the day as well. In the first innings, he had gone wicketless in a completed innings for the first time since 2008, and he responded second time round with his 17th Test five-for to bring a quick end to the Sri Lankan innings.
There was some classic tail-end batting from Sri Lanka in the morning but their resistance lasted only about half an hour. It didn’t matter much, given how far ahead Sri Lanka had already got after the first three days of the Test.