Luck flows South Africa's way but heavy defeat looms still

Sri Lankan cricketer Akila Dananjaya (C) appeals for an unsuccessful leg before wicket (LBW) decision for South Africa's Hashim Amla during the third day of the second Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) international cricket stadium in Colombo on July 22, 2018.
Sri Lankan cricketer Akila Dananjaya (C) appeals for an unsuccessful leg before wicket (LBW) decision for South Africa's Hashim Amla during the third day of the second Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) international cricket stadium in Colombo on July 22, 2018.
Image: ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP

Dean Elgar survived two spilled catches and being dismissed by what turned out to be a no-ball‚ Aiden Markram was dropped‚ and Sri Lanka’s bowlers were thrice denied wickets by the dubious margin of umpire’s call.

But‚ by stumps on the third day of the second Test in Colombo on Sunday‚ what has become normal service had resumed: South Africa were getting their butts kicked.

They were 139/5 in their second innings‚ needing another 351 to win.

Considering the visitors’ current score is the highest they have achieved in a series in which they have been dismissed for 126‚ 73 and 124‚ their chances of hauling in that tall target are most kindly described as highly unlikely.

“Things haven’t gone our way‚” batting coach Dale Benkenstein told a television interviewer.

“Conditions have been tough but we would have hoped for a better performance.”

You reckon? The series has yielded a century and seven half-centuries — not one of them scored by the South Africans.

Instead of the 37 batsmen they have sent to the crease only six have made it to 20.

And while left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj is the leading wicket-taker in the rubber with a sweet 16 scalps‚ he is also the only specialist slow bowler in South Africa’s XI in this match.

The Lankans have slung three proper slow poisoners into each of the two games‚ and together they have taken 32 of South Africa’s 35 wickets.

“They’re clever bowlers who take you out of your gameplan‚” Benkenstein said.

No-one could accuse the South Africans of cleverness in their tactical thinking around this series.

Having decided against picking left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi for the second Test despite his decent showing in the first Test in Galle as well as against handing leg spinner Shaun von Berg a debut‚ the visitors have been reduced to asking Theunis de Bruyn — who bowls occasional medium pacer in domestic cricket — to send down some offies.

De Bruyn has served up five overs of the flaccid stuff‚ along with 19.4 overs of genuinely occasional spin from Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar.

Suranga Lakmal‚ Sri Lanka’s captain and the only seamer in their side‚ must quietly laugh his head off every time one of South Africa’s ersatz spinners standing at the top of his run: he has yet to bowl a ball in the second Test.

Not that the visitors’ fast bowlers have made a significant impact. Lungi Ngidi was the only one to claim a wicket in Sri Lanka’s second innings‚ which was declared closed an hour before tea.

Maharaj finished with match figures of 12/283‚ making him just the seventh South African to claim more than 11 wickets in a Test. Only Hugh Tayfield has bowled more than Maharaj’s 487 deliveries in doing so.

For all that‚ there was a reason for South Africa supporters to be if not cheerful then a little less unhappy at the close on Sunday.

Theunis de Bruyn was 45 not out‚ a steely‚ disciplined performance in which he has faced 97 balls — more than any of his compatriots in a single innings in the series.

However many runs De Bruyn ends up with‚ and however many deliveries he keeps out‚ his effort will be too little too late to stop South Africa from sliding to a comprehensive series defeat.

But it was good to see‚ at last‚ someone showing an understanding for what it takes to bat properly in these conditions.

Pity De Bruyn didn’t play in the first Test. At least the selectors didn’t get that wrong this time.

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