Prince leads South Africa's fightback
Sri Lanka's bowlers looked to Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene for inspiration and played the waiting game, patiently going about the job at hand, and picked up four of the ten wickets they needed to secure victory in the first Test. But South Africa were not about to roll over and play dead. First Jacques Rudolph and Andrew Hall, and later Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher, resisted stoutly.
When the day began, South Africa needed their openers to defy the bowlers for as long as possible, and set up a platform from which the middle-order batsmen could each play a part. Rudolph and Hall did that handsomely well, seeing off the whole of the first session without losing a wicket. But, as good as the partnership was, it did not approach the kind of proportions of yesterday's epic, and it just might not be enough to keep defeat at bay.
It was soon after the lunch break that Sri Lanka had their first breakthrough. The industrious Dilhara Fernando had worked hard on the mindset of both opening batsmen, bowling a good line outside the off stump. He kept a tight control on where they could play the ball, and when he brought his line closer to the off stump, he was rewarded as Jacques Rudolph drove forcefully and outside edged to second slip where Chamara Kapugedera took a good catch as the ball died on him. Rudolph had made a patient 90 in an opening partnership of 165.
As is so often the case, one wicket after a long partnership led to another one almost right away. Hashim Amla, quite fidgety at the crease, could not quite settle down before a reverse swinging delivery from Fernando thudded into his pad. The ball might have just missed leg stump, but that did not stop Sri Lanka from winning a sustained shout for lbw.
Ashwell Prince had plenty to do and he chose to just shut shop and defend. To his credit he did this remarkably well, and found an able ally in AB de Villiers. Prince was at his dour best, presenting a dead bat to almost everything the bowlers threw at him. But de Villiers was not quite as comfortable just defending. With the dot balls piling up his natural strokemaking instincts got the better of him, and one sweep too many caused his downfall. He missed, and Muralitharan was spot on, winning the lbw.
Fortunately for South Africa, though, Prince hung on, ending the day on 60 from 170 balls, and Mark Boucher fought hard to get to 38. Now they need to get a good night's rest and rejoin battle tomorrow where they have three sessions to survive, and six wickets to defend. That they are still hanging on was due in large part to the work Rudolph and Hall put in early on.
Neither Rudolph nor Hall played any spectacular shots, but for them to bat the whole of the first session marked the beginning of a job well done. Although Rudolph has never opened the batting before in Tests, Hall certainly has, and with some joy. He scored a big hundred against India, in Kanpur, racking up 163 before he was prised out.
In the first session Hall did survive a few anxious moments, especially against Muralitharan, when the ball turned sharply and beat the middle of the bat. With fielders close-in waiting for anything to pounce on, the odd inside-edge ricocheted onto pad and almost went to hand.
Surprisingly, Rudolph was the more fluent batsman, driving well through the off side. He did not take the aerial route much, and understandably so, but when he cover-drove the spinner, or eased the medium pacer back past mid-off, his timing was good enough to find the fence on an SSC outfield that has quickened up considerably since the first day. After lunch, though, the Sri Lankans fought back strongly, and they will not be worrying just yet for a couple of wickets will bring a rather shaky tail to the middle.
Jacques Rudolph c Kapugedera b Fernando 90 (165 for 1)
Poked at a full ball outside off and edged to second slip
Hashim Amla lbw b Fernando 2 (171 for 2)
Missed a full, straight ball that reverse swung a touch
Andrew Hall lbw b Muralitharan 64 (185 for 3)
Played and missed a ball that pitched on the stumps and straightened
AB de Villiers lbw b Muralitharan 24 (234 for 4)
Swept and missed a full ball
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo