Hashim Amla became only the second captain to win a series in Sri Lanka © AFP

By R Vishal

Jul 28, 2014

South Africa saved the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) against Sri Lanka in what was an absolutely exhilarating game. Sri Lankans led gallantly through their indefatigable Rangana Herath and a good support from Dilruwan Perera. Despite two rain interruptions, the ebb and flow of this heart-stopping game was prevalent throughout. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers’s  heroics mid-day ended up being crucial and Vernon Philander played out the last half of the day’s play.

In what has been a tantalising Test series, there were several possibilities leading to the final day after a large chunk of the final day was lost due to rain. Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, the overnight batsmen were going steady on a the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) wicket that was slowly beginning to turn square. The South African rookies saw out the first half of the day’s play without much fuss. Herath had still not come on to bowl and Dilruwan Perera got the first breakthrough with a peach of a delivery.

In almost identical fashion to the way De Kock was dismissed in the first innings, the ball pitched on middle stump, turned and clipped the tip of Elgar’s off-stump. The batsman stood at the crease for a few seconds — astounded by the turn Perera had generated from the wicket. This bought Amla to the crease and De Kock, who was going so well till that point got his glove on a delivery that turned into him. The ball bobbed up in the air and was safely taken by Kithuruwan Vithanage at backward short-leg.

Herath was on song in this session and the Proteas desperately needed their star men to take them to safety. They did just that and blocked, watched and stood in the way of everything that Sri Lankans could muster. A two and half hour spell witnessed some of the stoic resistance that we have been used to by the men from the Rainbow Nation in the recent past. Only a magic delivery or a stroke of luck would have saved the Lankans and it was the former. Herath bowled a gem that breached De Villiers’ wicket. Immediately, Faf du Plessis was given out but South Africa referred the decision and was overturned.

Amla was a picture of resistance at Tea and was cramping up quite a bit. Just after the final session began, Sri Lanka were on top with a quick double-strike. First, it was Amla who nicked Dilruwan Perera’s delivery to Mahela Jayawardene at slip and Du Plessis departed almost identically a few overs later and the hosts could smell blood. They were elated and a lot depended on the shoulders of JP Duminy. South Africa got what they wanted and there was a rain break.

After the play resumed, Duminy and Vernon Philander calmly negotiated the spinners before Perera trapped Duminy in front to provide yet another twist in the tale. Duminy’s collective score over two innings in Colombo read 5  Steyn and Philander then followed suit and the first South African series victory on Sri Lankan soil in 21 years depended on these pacers. More than an hour’s play was left to play and Philander was unfazed and was calmed the storm with the experience of a veteran and the expertise of a top order batsman.

Brief scores:

Sri Lanka 421 (Mahela Jayawardene 165, Niroshan Dickwella 63; Vernon Philander 2 for 52) & 229 for 8 decl. (Upul Tharanga 30, Kumar Sangakkara 72, Angelo Mathews 63*; Morne Morkel 4 for 45, Dale Steyn 2 for 59) drew with South Africa 282 (Faf du Plessis 36, Hashim Amla 139*, AB de Villiers 37; Dilruwan Perera 5 for 69, Rangana Herath 4 for 71) & 159 for 8 (Quinton de Kock 37; Hashim Amla 25, Vernon Philander 27*; Rangana Herath 5 for 40, Dilruwan Perera 3 for 60)

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(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)