South Africa succumbed to their second-lowest total in Sri Lanka, a mere seven days after they had slumped to their lowest on the island, to concede a significant first-innings deficit that left them staring at a series defeat.
Sri Lanka’s spinners ripped through them for a third time, taking 7 for 105 in the second session at the SSC, with Akila Dananjaya, picking up his second five-wicket haul in his third Test.
At the end of the days play, Sri Lanka scored 151 for the loss of three wickets. fifties from Gunathilaka and Karunaratne took Sri Lnaka’s lead to 365. Karunaratne
Akila rattled South Africa twice: first when he put on 74 with Rangana Herath for the last wicket and then when he cut through the visitors’ line-up with his offbreaks and legbreaks.
Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock were the only South African batsmen to get more than 20, as the side continued to struggle against spin. Should they play for the turn, or not? Should they sweep, or not? Should they defend, or not? South Africa still don’t have answers.
In the build-up to this game, du Plessis indicated South Africa refrain from blind aggression and Dean Elgar listened. He blocked the first three balls he faced, from Dilruwan Perera, and then went forward to dead-bat a fourth but Akila got the ball to dip, spin away and take the edge. Dananjaya de Silva took a good, low catch at second slip to dismiss Elgar for a duck.
South Africa promoted Theunis de Bruyn, who was included as a seventh specialist batsman, to No.3, and he also tried to concentrate on the defence. He did it for six balls, found three runs in between, and then played for a turn to an Akila ball that stayed straight
and was caught behind.
Rangana Herath could have dismissed Hashim Amla before lunch, when the batsman drove to short cover but Danushka Gunathilaka fluffed the chance. Instead, Amla became only the third South African to reach 9000 Test runs. But, Herath only had to wait for his next ball to get the reward. He trapped Aiden Markram lbw, with an arm ball, as the opener played for turn too.
Du Plessis showed intent immediately after lunch, when he struck five boundaries in six balls, three back-to-back fours off Akila and a hoist over mid-on and a swinging six over extra cover off Herath. Amla was more circumspect, and more scratchy. He offered a leading edge to the right of Akila in his followthrough and was nearly bowled by a Dilruwan Perera ball that almost spun back onto the stumps.
Still, it seemed Amla may be able to fight his way to back form and his stand with du Plessis grew to 55 – South Africa’s second highest of the series – but he inside-edged onto his pad to offer short leg a catch and start the procession.
Though Temba Bavuma looked solid on the sweep and could have stayed with du Plessis to form something of a convincing stand, the South African captain let his No.6 down, when he followed up a slog, with an ambitious sweep and bottom-edged to the wicketkeeper. Du Plessis reviewed but Ultra Edge showed a spike as ball passed bat.
Quinton de Kock then pulled off two confident sweeps and should have been out for 8 but was dropped in the cordon, pushing at a Dilruwan delivery with hard hands. He looked comfortable after that, but did not have anyone to stay with him. Bavuma chipped a catch to short leg, Keshav Maharaj top-edged a sweep to square leg and de Kock was ultimately pinned on the front pad to give Akila his fifth.
Earlier, Akila had tormented South Africa with bat in hand, defying their attempts to clean up the tail quickly. Sri Lanka’s last pair have been their second-most successful in the series and contributed 164 runs across both matches, only 47 runs less than the opening stand.
They were eventually separated when Herath was caught at leg slip off Maharaj, securing the left-arm spinner the best figures by a South African bowler in an innings away from home. Maharaj’s 9 for 129 surpassed Alan Donald’s 8 for 71 against Zimbabwe in Harare in 1995, and is also the second-best figures by a South African in an innings anywhere.
At the end of the days play, Sri Lanka scored 151 for the loss of three wickets. fifties from Gunathilaka and Karunaratne took Sri Lnaka’s lead to 365. Karunaratne is unbeaten on 59.