Jittery SA make it to tea with nine wickets in hand

Tea South Africa 38 for 1 (Elgar 14*, De Bruyn 8*) 124 need 452 to win v Sri Lanka 338 275 for 5 dec. (Karunaratne 85, Mathews 71

Angelo Mathews chops through point © AFP

Sri Lanka squandered three clear chances and had unsuccessful reviews but began making their way through South Africa’s line-up, who continued to play for turn, even in the absence of it.

Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, celebrating his 36th birthday, could have been well into South Africa’s middle-order but had to be content with just one wicket in the post-lunch session. They still have seven sessions to get the remaining nine wickets, with the target of 490 still 452 runs away.

Dean Elgar was let off twice, first when he top-edged a sweep off Rangana Herath and Dilruwan, running from square leg, got to the chance but fluffed it, and then when he was bowled by a Dilruwan slider, but the the bowler had overstepped.

Two balls later, Herath found Markram’s outside edge but Angelo Mathews could not hold on to the chance at first slip. Markram went on to strike a powerful sweep through midwicket to bring up South Africa’s highest opening stand of the series – 16 – and found the boundary one more time when he charged Dilruwan and hit a half-volley through mid-off, but he did not last beyond that. Markram was out lbw, sweeping, off the first ball of Herath’s fifth over.

Theunis de Bruyn, playing in his sixth Test, was promoted to No.3 in the first innings and stayed there for the second. He was quick to sweep and the shot brought him two boundaries but his defence remained shaky. Dilruwan beat his outside and reviewed for lbw off two consecutive deliveries. Both times the deliveries pitched in line and struck de Bruyn on the back foot with the impact in line with the stumps, but both times umpire Rod Tucker’s on-field decision was not out. Both times ball-tracking showed umpire’s call on whether the ball was going on to hit offstump, giving de Bruyn second and third chances to make a name for himself.

Earlier, Suranga Lakmal had set South Africa the improbable task of chasing 490 to win the second Test and level the series against Sri Lanka, and gave his own men seven-and-a-half sessions to take the ten wickets they need to secure a series victory. South Africa have lasted less than four sessions in three innings on the island so far, and have slumped to their three lowest totals in Sri Lanka in this series, and will likely only be looking to leave the series with some respectability.

Sri Lanka’s declaration came 11 balls after Angelo Mathews was dismissed for 71, caught at slip by Faf du Plessis to give Keshav Maharaj’s his 12th wicket of the match. The second new ball was due, but South Africa had not yet opted to use it. Instead, they had Maharaj operating from one end, and were rotating through part-timers at the other. Theunis de Bruyn and Aiden Makram contributed 12 overs between them, with Dale Steyn having the heaviest workload of the quicks.

Steyn bowled 11 overs, wicketless, which means he will finish the series level with Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s highest wicket-taker with 421 scalps. Steyn will have to wait until Boxing Day, when South Africa host Pakistan, to try and overtake Pollock.

The Sri Lankan spinners will not need nearly that amount of time to get stuck into South Africa. They have already taken 27 of the 30 visiting wickets in the series, with the other three falling to Lakmal in Galle. Lakmal did not bowl himself at all in the first innings in Colombo and with significant turn on offer, may not be needed in the second either.

Despite the conditions, Sri Lanka were able to pile the runs on on the third morning against a wearing South African attack. Dimuth Karunarathe his personal tally in the two-Test series to 356 runs and fell 15 runs short of a second century. After hours of concentration, he chased a Lungi Ngidi length ball and a edged to Quinton de Kock.

Importantly for Sri Lanka’s confidence, Angelo Mathews returned to form with a first score of over 50 since December last year. He has only played six innings in that time but had not got out of the 30s. Mathews was particularly aggressive against Maharaj as his innings grew but eventually chased a length ball that carried to du Plessis at knee height to give Maharaj a dozen rewards after he delivered 81.1 overs in three days.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

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