There were no signs of Durban’s famed Green Mamba – tides which are rumoured to make the Kingsmead track juicy – but that didn’t prevent South Africa from being knocked over for their lowest total against Sri Lanka. While the lower order had to deal with some sharp spin, the specialist batsmen didn’t have to face any snorters which could explain the meek batting effort.
An assured stand of 76 for the fourth wicket between Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers showed how few gremlins there were in the surface, but collapses on either side of that partnership had South Africa scrambling to avert the follow-on. Their tail managed to do achieve that, before Welegedara completed his five-for and ended the innings by getting Marchant de Lange to edge to the keeper. de Lange’s 7 for 81 had limited Sri Lanka to 338 in the morning, but instead of a well-earned rest after becoming the eighth debutant to take a five-wicket haul this year, he had to bat in the gloom towards the end of the day.
The substantial lead of 170 didn’t seem likely even after Thilan Samaraweera became only the second Sri Lanka batsman to make a Test century in South Africa. de Lange had ripped out the final three batsmen for three runs, but unfortunately for the home fans, the wickets continued to tumble even when South Africa were batting.
Two overs after lunch, Jacques Rudolph continued the trend of batsmen throwing away their wickets, by helping a short ball on leg stump to deep-backward square leg. Graeme Smith followed minutes later, as he fished at a ball without footwork at a Chanaka Welegedara delivery to give wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal his first Test catch. It got a lot worse in Welegedara’s next over as Jacques Kallis edged to slip to collect a rare Test duck, leaving South Africa at 27 for 3.
South Africa still had two of their most bankable batsmen in the middle – Amla and de Villiers – and they revived the home side by comfortably playing out the rest of the session. de Villiers was subdued, but Amla showed his wide range of whiplash shots through the off side – there were several punches through cover for four and the point boundary was peppered as he pounced on the wide deliveries offered. Dilhara Fernando, regarded as the spearhead of the attack, was only brought on as the fourth-change bowler, but even his introduction didn’t stop Amla, who lashed three fours in one over to cruise towards another half-century.
For the second day in a row, Sri Lanka performed well above expectations to leave South Africa in some discomfort at tea in Durban. The centerpiece of their improved show in Monday was Thilan Samaraweera’s dogged innings, which stretched to three-figures this morning as Sri Lanka reached their highest Test score in South Africa. After that, their quick bowlers lifted their game, striking thrice early though they didn’t have much movement to work with.
South Africa still had two of their most bankable batsmen in the middle – Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers – and they rescued the home side with a 73-run stand over the course of which they became increasingly assured. Their efforts built on those of 21-year-old fast bowler Marchant de Lange, who capped off a bountiful year for Test debutants with a seven-for, the third-best figures by a South African in his first Test.
South Africa’s openers calmly dealt with the handful of overs before lunch, but things went awry after the break. Two overs into the session, Jacques Rudolph continued the trend of batsmen throwing away their wickets, by helping a short ball on leg stump to deep-backward square leg. Graeme Smith followed minutes later, as he fished at a ball without footwork at a Chanaka Welegedara delivery to give wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal his first Test catch. It got a lot worse in Welegedara’s next over as Jacques Kallis edged to slip to collect a rare Test duck, leaving South Africa at 27 for 3.
de Villiers survived an early shout for lbw, but both he and Amla were solid after that. Amla, in particular, showed his wide range of whiplash shots through the off side – there were several punches through cover for four and the point boundary was peppered as he pounced on the wide deliveries offered.
Sri Lanka also helped by delaying the introduction of Dilhara Fernando, supposedly their pace spearhead, till the 23rd over – as the fourth change bowler. With South Africa on the mat at 45 for 3, Sri Lanka instead used the far easier medium-pacers of Angelo Mathews.
When Fernando was finally brought on, he didn’t prove too much of a threat, again feeding Amla’s strengths around point as the batsman lashed three boundaries in an over to cruise towards his half-century. de Villiers was more subdued but he too had little discomfort as the track remained flat and easy-paced.
The benign nature of the surface was showcased in the morning as well, when Samaraweera and Rangana Herath defied the bowling for more than an hour. Samaraweera was 14 short of his hundred overnight, and was in no hurry to reach the landmark.
Herath, in contrast, swung at everything, including some comical yet effective flat-batted swipes against the hulking fast bowlers. Morne Morkel came closest to a breakthrough in the first hour, as he had Herath caught and bowled only for the replays to show he had overstepped. Even the supremely successful Dale Steyn couldn’t make inroads, as he went wicketless for the first time in a completed Test innings since 2008.
Samaraweera got to his century soon after drinks, pushing the ball towards cover for two, before exuberantly celebrating the milestone, pretending to shoot at someone in the dressing room. Herath was also enjoying himself, with consecutive boundaries, both confident steers past cover point as Sri Lanka moved to 335 for 7.
de Lange finally gave South Africa something to smile about as Herath top-edged one of his carefree pulls. The end was swift after that – a de Lange snorter that was far too good for a No. 10 resulted in Chanaka Welegedara lobbing a catch to short leg, and Samaraweera followed soon after, holing out to extra cover as he searched for quick runs to bring the innings to a close on 338.
Sri Lanka have provided a strong challenge for five sessions, but there’s still plenty of hard work ahead if they are to extend South Africa’s poor recent run at Kingsmead.