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

South Africa keeping their options open

If South Africa are still batting at tea on day five, they will go all out to win the Colombo Test. That is the warning AB de Villiers sounded after a day in which momentum was finally infused into a match that has stood in limbo through its middle portions.

"If I am coming in after tea and we need six or seven an over I might give it a go," de Villiers said. "After tea tomorrow if we have wickets in hands that possibility will be there. You've got to find the balance between being positive and defensive. If we've got a sniff at tea-time tomorrow, we might have a go."

Most of South Africa's actions in this match have indicated the opposite but de Villiers explained the slow scoring rate in the first innings was merited by circumstance and conditions, not a tactics as Kumar Sangakkara suggested. "They have more spinners, which slowed the game down more," he said. "The wicket also got drier which made it tough to score."

Sangakkara believed South Africa were "playing a lot for time rather than scoring runs." He called their approach "negative," and said they gave Sri Lanka the "opportunities" they needed to take a big first-innings lead. "The more negative you go, the more defensive you are," he said. "It also tires you out."

South Africa looked ready for a repeat of that at the start of the second innings when they scored just four runs in the first half-hour of their time at the crease. But they were determined that was not how they wanted to play the game and promoted Quinton de Kock up the order to show it. "He is positive player and he bats up the order at home. That was thinking behind letting him at No.3," de Villiers said. "We would like to keep our options open. With some more hard work tomorrow, you never know."

South Africa may never have made their sentiments public if they had not shown they were capable of batting for long periods of time to save matches. That they came millimeters from turning their heroics against India at the Wanderers into victory showed that a big chase was not beyond them.

While the pitch will make a Johannesburg-like effort difficult, de Villiers said South Africa were ready to show what they were capable of even in conditions which may not be suited to their ambitions. "Sri Lanka have played most of the cricket n this Test match and credit to them for this but we are in the fight," he said. "The way I know our batters, we are not going to give it up. Sri Lanka know what we are capable of. We have had a great tour so far and we want to finish on a high."

A series win will make this South Africa team the first side to win both ODI and Test series in Sri Lanka on the same visit. It will also give the South African Test team their first series win in Sri Lanka in 21 years and will put them back on top of the Test rankings. That can all be achieved by simply hanging on for the draw but de Villiers said a win would make it that much sweeter.

"It will mean everything to us," he said. "It's what we want to be about. We don't want to be winning and losing. We want to be consistent. We would hate to lose. We're going to come here positive."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • c on July 28, 2014, 4:05 GMT

    Pit Lee. Let's agree to disagree. There are other ranking methods/systems that actually DOES NOT take Series into considerations. I look forward to the day when series factor is taken out within a ranking process where every game counts.

  • Steven on July 28, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    Yea I think they won't go for cos they don't need to and prob the pitch might not allow for fast scoring but I hope they keep a open mind and come out look busy look for quick running between wickets and show some intent with the odd boundary less dots are key more singles and twos are crucial if they want to get into a position where winning is a chance good to see dekock in early ab would next in followed by jp and if they have to pull out then you have Amla and faf to close it down for adraw but I don't think they will be that risky cos that will always give Sri Lanka a chance of taking wickets

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 2:39 GMT

    @SLSup, I disagree there - every series has always been more important than individual Tests, and it's up to a trailing team to be a bit more aggressive. If you look at how NZ didn't go for a 2-0 drubbing of England, no-one really resented them for spurning the risk of fairytale aggression. Then there's Australia's former record in dead rubbers... The ranking system is right to emphasise series. I think there should be points for winning a series, fewer points for retaining with a tied series, and fewer again points for not gaining with a tied series.

  • c on July 27, 2014, 22:58 GMT

    Let's be honest. This is what happens in cricket when you have a ranking system. I like the way things were before that. Never had to contend with this kindly topic in the 80's when I used to strain my ears on that FM band radio a Catholic Priest known to family used to lend to me since we didn't have a radio. Cricket was more passionate in every game because every game mattered.

    In Galle, I saw one of the most focused 5 days of cricket displayed by SA in a Test in all my years of following the game. They won because of their focus to win. Their focus is clearly to draw in SSC and this used to be someting that teams consider sometimes toward end of day 4 or during day 5 before the ICC Rankings came into effect. To see SA going for a draw on 2nd day was sad - even if acceptable in the context of their STATED OBJECTIVE of regaining #1 ranking.

    Cricket is the loser. Sadly, too, SOME would disagree.

  • Hardy on July 27, 2014, 21:03 GMT

    Mind games, they'll do nothing of the sort. They'll get Du Plessis in at 4 to try & bat the whole day out again, & AB will bat like he did in the first innings if Sri Lanka can get through Amla & Du Plessis.

  • ESPN on July 27, 2014, 19:53 GMT

    Its too early for South Africa to decide on if they are going to draw the match or win the match. My opinion is that they must take the final outcome out of their minds and just play positively and naturally for most of the day. They must try conserving wickets during the first half of the day and then depending on their position after tea, either decide to gradually go for a win or a draw. The problem at J'burg is that they planned for the draw and stuck to it, even though they had an opportunity to win the match towards the end. The team needs to be dynamic and capable of adapting to different strategies as the game progresses and not get bogged down with pre-meditation.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 16:51 GMT

    South Africa should go for DRAW (just remember what happened in Galle with SL). SA has done it before against Ausssies/India. This is not the new assignment for them. Sending De Cock up is good as he might not handle pressure in lower order. AB/Amla/FAF/Duminy are experienced players in these circumstances.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 14:42 GMT

    South Africa is just content on blocking every ball. So there is no fear from Sri Lanka about a South Africa win. It's either a Win for SL or a draw for sure

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 14:30 GMT

    south africa would have definitely scored around 100-120 with the way they were playing when Kock joined Elgar, that would have given them more chance of winning. Tommorow to score this much amount of runs on 5th day pitch vs spinners will be lot of hard work, so South Africa should play positively and go for win if not han draw the test and win the series. if weather is going to be same as it was today, Sri lanka have no chance they are down and dusted.

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