Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 3rd day July 26, 2014

Sri Lanka take big lead despite Amla ton


Play 02:06
Arnold: SL favourites, but should play positively

Sri Lanka 421 and 11 for 0 lead South Africa 282 (Amla 139*, Perera 5-69, Herath 4-71) by 150 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

South Africa need only a draw at the SSC to regain the coveted No. 1 Test ranking and they batted as if that was their sole objective. Since the start of the innings midway through the second day, their batsmen have only been bothered about consuming time, deeming run-scoring as an unnecessary frivolity. Hashim Amla ground his way to his 22nd Test century, the first by a South African captain in Sri Lanka, and the second slowest of his career to avert the follow-on but not a 139-run first-innings deficit.

The other batsmen didn't have the runs to match the amounts of time they spent in the middle which meant that Sri Lanka's spinners were never put under pressure and were allowed to wheel away accurate over after accurate over. The pitch was no minefield, which made the South African strategy even harder to comprehend. There was turn, but nothing alarming. There were no grubbers or high-jumpers. And South Africa have some of the world's best batsmen against spin.

JP Duminy's 58-ball 3 was the South African innings in microcosm. He wasn't scoring runs, but he wasn't getting beaten, nor was he in serious trouble. There was a severe lack of intent though as he blocked or padded away everything that he could. He played 49 consecutive dot balls, before finally missing one and was stumped after the ball deflected off his pad.

The day began with Sri Lanka using their only quick to bounce the batsmen from round the wicket, not a tactic that flustered the overnight pair of Amla and AB de Villiers much. Suranga Lakmal overstepped regularly as well and was struck for three fours in an over by de Villiers. That made it five boundaries in seven deliveries as Amla had just put away a wayward Ajantha Mendis for a couple of fours. After dead-batting almost everything on Friday, South Africa started the day with more vigour.

However, once Sri Lanka decided to give their two best bowlers, Dilruwan Perera and Rangana Herath, extended spells, the scoring rate went comatose again. South Africa had only made 14 runs in nine overs before Perera made the breakthroughs that derailed them.

Perera isn't a big turner of the ball, but he got it to spin just enough to beat the inside edge as de Villiers looked to defend and got him lbw. Two balls later, he got one to spin just enough again to beat the outside edge of the left-handed Quinton de Kock and take the off stump. In a matter of minutes, South Africa had squandered what they gained over hours of attritional cricket.

In football, all-out defence is seen as a safe strategy. Here, South Africa's all-out defence is a high-risk tactic as that Perera over showed.

Still, Amla persevered, solid as ever. He unveiled some breathtaking inside-out drives against the spinners, typical whiplash punches off Lakmal, got both pads in front of the stumps to make an impassable wall if the ball pitched outside leg, and generally hanging on the back foot and trusting himself to adjust well enough to keep out any danger.

It was a monumental effort from him, the sixth longest by an overseas batsman in Sri Lanka and he remained unconquered after facing 382 deliveries. He has consumed more than 350 deliveries in an innings five times, and he has remained unbeaten on all those occasions.

For a while, it looked as if South Africa might struggle to avoid the follow-on, even with Amla going strong. Their cricketing catenaccio strategy would have been a complete failure if they had been forced to bat again. That didn't come to pass, though, as the tail gamely supported Amla. Dale Steyn took up 71 deliveries before holing out going for a third six, Imran Tahir used up an hour after tea before South Africa were bowled out near the close of play.

Though Sri Lanka have a sizeable lead, one concern for them is the workload of their main spinners, Herath and Perera. Both have already bowled more than 40 overs in the match, after sharing more than 150 overs in Galle. Mendis is the third specialist spinner but he struggled for line and length, forcing Mathews to give him only short spells. Sri Lanka will need more from him as they press for a series-levelling win over the next two days.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Suraj on July 27, 2014, 6:57 GMT

    Sad to see Amla to be much more defensive than Alaistar Cook as a Captain. Cricketing Legends are not mad to time and again say that if you have to be No1 then you have to think & perform like a No1 Team. This is really sad especially the way SA batted on 2nd & 3rd day and the way JP Duminy played his innings of 3 off 58 balls in which he made a world record of 49 consecutive dots! Unbelievable. But in a way it would be enough for the selectors to know that AB will be the right guy to lead SA and not Amla because it could well happen that Amla loses his confidence as a batsman once he becomes responsible for losing No1 status. Plus he will be sacked. SL have a good lead right now and I have a feeling that the pitch will deteriorate by this evening or max tomorrow morning and that could be curtains for SA and their No 1 Ranking. Just can't gulp such defensive Captaincy either by Alaistar Cook nor Hashim Amla.

  • Henry on July 27, 2014, 6:53 GMT

    Seems like Sri Lanka's plans are coming along nicely. In my humble opinion, all three results are still possible, obviously with a lot resting on the declaration. I wonder, will Angleo Matthews be thinking of the very recent past when Pakistan chased down ~350 in less than a day? (feel free to correct the digits but I think was along those lines).

    Matthews seems to have turned a corner since then and I like what I've seen so far. The last match was lost due to batting collapses; losing a strike bowler wouldn't have helped either. But Matthews himself has been pretty golden so far, with bat and as captain. I wonder if he's inspired Dickwella in some way too? What a debut!

    As for South Africa, surely beneath the serene exterior of their new captain lies a burning desire to win? That said, I can see the advantages of for playing out a draw. Rankings aren't everyone's cup of tea but regaining the #1 spot on his first assignment as captain would probably be greatly appreciated by many

  • Devapriya on July 27, 2014, 5:47 GMT

    With styne closing on retirement and SA's negative tactics they will never be a proper no 1 team. It is just not being no1 statistically. what matters most is how you achieve it. Aussies and Windies did it with aplomb. Like I said before Kallis exemplifies what SA cricket is all about. Statistically superior but mediocre in attack, style, crowd pulling power etc.

  • ESPN on July 27, 2014, 5:43 GMT

    Good run rate by SL.. SL trying hard for a victory.. But SA seems to be trying fir a draw..

  • ESPN on July 27, 2014, 5:40 GMT

    Well pakistan has been great freind of SL through out the history... We both have a common enemy .. You know whom i talk about..We both defeated our enemy at asia cup and the final came between us... It prooved that Pakistan and sri lanka are the two giants in asia.. No One else..

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 5:22 GMT

    Now srilanka have to gain a lead about 320/350 by 2pm today and make a declaration with enough time. if they wait longer SA cud easily drag onto a draw. Need to take risks and confident.

  • rob on July 27, 2014, 5:07 GMT

    In for a penny, in for a pound so I'll finish what I started to say. .. Until SA decide that the way to go is to try to rip the opposition a new orifice each and every game they play, regardless of conditions, the opposition or the series/tournament situation, they will NEVER be regarded in quite the say light as the 2 genuine great teams in the history of the game. .. Too cosy, too coasty and just not mean enough to make the opposition quiver in it's boots. And all this at a time when you've probably got the players to do it with aplomb.

  • Prashan on July 27, 2014, 4:49 GMT

    @zarasochozarasamjho, thanks for supporting Sri Lanka as a Pakistani fan. Much appreciated as always. Looking forward to seeing Pakistan next month.

  • rob on July 27, 2014, 4:33 GMT

    I can see both sides of the argument about South Africa's tactics. From the SA pov they pretty much did the job in the first Test and can now slide comfortably into the style of cricket that has made them so damn hard to beat for so long. It's slow and it's attritional but it's what they're really good at and it's cruise time for them. .. All they have to do is coast home for a draw and it's hello #1.

    On the other hand, I hope it bites them on the backside because it's a tactic that let's the opposition steer the game around. A top side should never do that imo, but that's just my lowly opinion. .. I can tell you this much for certain though. SA will never shed their stodgy image until they start playing every game with the intensity and winning intent they showed in the first Test. .. old habits really are hard to break I suppose.

  • Johnathon on July 27, 2014, 4:12 GMT

    It seems set up for a classic. Sri Lanka will try to bat for 2 sessions and get 300+ and South Africa will have to survive 4 sessions on a 4th day Sri Lankan pitch. Another classic Test Match after the 2nd Eng-Ind test and the 2nd Eng-SL test. Test Match cricket seems to be on the rise!

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