Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 4th day July 27, 2014

South Africa set for final-day spin inquisition

South Africa 282 and 38 for 1 need another 331 runs to beat Sri Lanka 421 and 229 for 8 dec (Sangakkara 72, Mathews 63*, Morkel 4-45)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Angelo Mathews' outstanding year continued © AFP

Sri Lanka had one objective when the day began: score as quickly as possible and declare. They did exactly that as they rattled along at well above four runs an over - more than double what South Africa managed in the first innings - to swell the lead to 368, despite more than an hour being lost due to rain and bad light. In Galle, Sri Lanka had to chase 370 in 120 overs, while here they have a whole day to wheedle out the remaining nine wickets.

Yet again, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews formed the bedrock of Sri Lanka's effort, with both making brisk half-centuries to extend their purple patches.

With South Africa having turned this game into a long slog for survival, their objective when the day began was to keep the run-rate down. Getting wickets was good, but not good enough if the Sri Lankan run-rate wasn't reined in. The longer Sri Lanka were out there before declaring or being bowled out, the shorter South Africa's batsmen would have to persevere. They hung around for more than four sessions in the first innings, but on a track that has worn down significantly more, it will be miraculous if they last nearly that long in the second.

Sri Lanka knew it as well, and began the morning with a bunch of boundaries. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander leaked 27 runs in the first four overs before restoring a semblance of control. Upul Tharanga eased the first ball of the day to the long-off boundary, and did the bulk of the early scoring before nicking one through to the keeper on 30.

A Morne Morkel slower ball accounted for the other opener, Kaushal Silva, and Imran Tahir had a reverse-sweeping Mahela Jayawardene dismissed for a rare duck at the SSC. That brought together Sangakkara and Mathews, who rushed the score along.

They were held back for an hour by the rain as the threatening clouds finally opened up at lunch. Every minute lost was a minute less for South Africa to survive, but once play resumed they were reminded of the troubles ahead.

Tahir, as usual, offered loads of full tosses, and when one of them was put away to fine leg by Sangakkara, it brought up his tenth 50-plus score of the year and highlighted how far away South Africa are from solving their spin problem. The next ball pointed out a more immediate worry. Tahir got the ball to explode off the rough, unsettling even the well-set Sangakkara. Given how accurate Herath is, that rough outside the left-hander's offstump is going to be regularly hit before the end of this game, and every time South Africa's batsmen are likely to be guessing what the ball will do.

Though bad light stopped play well ahead of the allowed close, South Africa's batsmen were given a clear idea of what to expect on the final day. For only the second time in their Test history, Sri Lanka opened with two spinners. Herath and Dilruwan Perera had the ball spinning and leaping, there were edges aplenty before Alviro Petersen popped a catch to silly point.

Dean Elgar was hit on the box by a ball that ripped in off the rough, the promoted Quinton de Kock was bemused when a delivery from Perera sharply changed direction outside off. De Kock decided the way to counter the situation was to play his strokes, unlike every South African batsman in this match, and finished the day on 21 off 31.

South Africa can draw major confidence from Johannesburg 2013 and Adelaide 2012 but neither of those great escapes came on tracks as hostile as the one they will face tomorrow. If South Africa do survive, they would have truly earned that No. 1 ranking.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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