They did it in Adelaide, when they batted out 124.3 overs in a match they were never trying to win. They did it again in Johannesburg, when they saw off 136 overs and surprised everyone by getting within eight runs of a huge target. Now South Africa are gearing up for Survivor 3: SSC. This time though, survival is not the only objective on the visitors' minds.

Despite falling well behind in the game after conceding a first-innings deficit of 139 and using most of day three to play it safe, South Africa coach Russell Domingo left open the possibility that his team could still win the second Test.

"If we can get them under a bit of pressure then they might take a while longer to get the runs and wickets fall," Domingo said. "We may end up chasing 240 in four sessions, which would mean we're still very much in the game."

Although Sri Lanka have been prone to collapses in the latter parts of their innings, it would still require South Africa to run through them quickly and the onus will be on Imran Tahir to step up. The legspinner has so far been both inconsistent and unlucky. However, his promotion up the order and his contribution with the bat would have bolstered the self-belief he often needs to perform. "Imran is a confident guy," Domingo said. "Imran has got a big role for us to play, especially with all the rough outside the left-handers' off stump."

South Africa know first hand of the difficulty for left-hand batsmen to score at the SSC, following JP Duminy's laboured 58-ball innings. After showing off a range of sweeps and reverse-sweeps in Galle, Duminy did not even know where to find the broom in Colombo. He persisted with shouldering arms, padding up, and the uncertainty eventually got him out.

Duminy battled for an hour and eight minutes, and contributed just three runs to South Africa's cause in a period where the game seemed to drift into nothingness because of the visitors' unwillingness to move. Domingo, however, explained the safety-first approach was taken with the bigger picture in mind.

"Hindsight is a great science. If he had gone for a shot and holes out to mid-on everyone says he is playing irresponsibly. We started brightly but then we lost two wickets in two balls. We have to assess what's important. JP tried to get us to lunch and then we reassessed. There were very tough conditions for left-handers today."

Because of the slow tempo, South Africa were constantly shifting focus between scoring runs and eating away time, and eventually decided that running down the clock was the best course of action.

"We wanted to get what we could with the bat, particularly with Herath bowling over the wicket for quite a long time. Runs and time are both so crucial," Domingo said. "It would have been great to get another 100 runs, but it would also have been great to have gotten 50 runs less and batted for another two hours. There was a good rear-guard action in Dale and Imran's partnerships with Hashim, but Sri Lanka still have a substantial lead."

Amla's slow century was yet another confirmation that South Africa made the right choice in choosing him as their Test leader. He absorbed pressure, thought about the situation all the time, and playing accordingly. "He was really patient and applied himself well," Domingo said.

He also put South Africa in a position from where they can still attack for a while, and if they find themselves defending with the bat, it will probably not be as arduous as it could have been.

Domingo was confident South Africa could see off more than 100 overs, even in trying conditions, because they had done it twice recently. "It's at times like this where they can call back on experience from the last time," Domingo said. "They've been in positions where they didn't really look like they had a chance of surviving and then came close and survived."

That will be an ominous reality for Sri Lanka, who may be tempted to give themselves time rather than runs and dangle a carrot in front of South Africa. What would Domingo do if he was in Sri Lanka's shoes?

"They'll probably look to get another 100 or so. I don't know, they must figure it out themselves," he said.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent