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