A breakthrough for Sri Lanka - Marsh
As the Sri Lankan score trickled over 200, Thilan Samaraweera's body language changed. He took the team there with a classy clip through midwicket and then relaxed a little. A good player of spin, he latched on to Imran Tahir, coming down the track with more authority. Dinesh Chandimal joined in, bringing up a half-century that proved his potential.
The pair took Sri Lanka to within eight overs of ending the day in control, before Chandimal threw his efforts away chasing a wide one and Thisara Perara's dismissal made it advantage South Africa. The stumps total of 289 for seven probably has two wickets too many as far as Sri Lanka are concerned but on the whole represents a far more convincing effort from a batting line-up that appeared frail and limp in Centurion.
"Today was a bit of a breakthrough for us," Geoff Marsh, the Sri Lanka coach said. "We looked and played a lot better."
Sri Lanka had much to ponder after they were shot out for under 200 both times in the first Test. The SuperSport Park pitch, which Marsh called "disappointing", did nothing but expose their weaknesses against pace and bounce. Kumar Sangakkara said they had done some soul searching, captain Tillakaratne Dilshan said they put in extra hours in the nets and Marsh said it paid off with a better display today.
"When you keep getting bowled out in the first innings for under 200, it happened against Australia, Pakistan and here, there were things we had to address," he admitted. "Guys worked hard on technique, the way they were approaching their innings, and how they were thinking in the middle. We have a very good batting line-up and we should be getting 300-plus totals."
A score of that size is in sight, thanks largely to the efforts of the two men who were at the crease when the 200 mark had been passed. Samaraweera and Chandimal shared a century-stand and took Sri Lanka to a semblance of safety with an approach that showed the most maturity they have displayed on the tour so far.
It was a particularly important knock for Samaraweera, who was recalled to the side for this series after missing out on the previous one - against Pakistan in the UAE - and had plenty to prove. "We are pleased he is in the side and on this tour so far he has played really well," Marsh said. "I thought he batted well in the last game on a difficult wicket against that attack. He is a quality player and any side that has a quality player like him sitting on the bench was going to miss him."
While Samaraweera was fighting to show reasons for prolonging his career, Chandimal was trying to justify his inclusion in the team, at the expense of Kaushal Silva. Marsh felt Chandimal performed his role well, as he was picked with the idea that he could provide impetus in the lower-middle order. "He has worked very hard and we thought it was an opportunity for him," he said. "We have Dilshan at top of the order who plays shots and we felt that we should have someone at No. 7 who will give us that oomph. He has all the shots and doesn't mind playing those shots."
The one shot too many came when Chandimal reached for a wide ball and gave Morne Morkel a reason to celebrate what has been an uncomfortable time for him of late. Like all of this team-mates except Sangakkara, who was undone by a near-unplayable ball from Marchant de Lange, Chandimal scripted his own demise but Marsh said he was not too frustrated by the occasional moments of mindlessness from his batsmen. "Obviously you want them to get along, once they get to 30s to make a big score," he said. "But they are working really hard and thinking about it and focusing. We've got ourselves up to around 300, which you've got to get to be competitive."
On a pitch that is flattening in the heat, but one that Kallis said "stayed pretty slow throughout the day," and offered a little bit of turn, a total of around 300 could turn out to be a score that Sri Lanka's bowlers will fancy defending to complete the breakthrough that Marsh hopes they are achieving.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent