Kumar Sangakkara ton puts Sri Lanka in strong position

Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara (L) celebrates his ton against South Africa on day three Getty Images

Durban: Dec 28, 2011

Kumar Sangakkara hit a superbly-crafted century on the third day of the second Test match against South Africa at Kingsmead on Wednesday and put Sri Lanka in a strong position to “close out the game”.

Sangakkara’s 108 enabled Sri Lanka to reach 256 for seven in their second innings – an overall lead of 426, eight runs more than the highest successful run chase in Test history.

The left-handed former captain shared stands of 94 with Thilan Samaraweera and 104 with rookie wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal as Sri Lanka went in search of their first win of the year – and their first in four Test tours of South Africa.

Sangakkara admitted the Sri Lankans had been stung by criticism of their performance when they were beaten by an innings and 81 runs in the first Test at Centurion.

“Comments can inspire sides and pressure can make sides rise to the occasion,” he said.

“We proved we have the ability to counter attack and get into winning positions. But the match is still not over. We put ourselves in a great position. Our job now is to make sure we close the match out.”

South African coach Gary Kirsten said his team’s poor batting performance in the first innings, when they were bowled out for 168, had put them “in a hole”.

But he refused to write off South Africa’s chances.

“I’m still quite excited by what can happen,” he said. “There is a great opportunity for someone to be a hero for his country.”

Both Sangakkara and Kirsten said the pitch remained good for batting and Sangakkara said Sri Lanka wanted to stretch their lead.

“Our target now is to get as many as we can in front of the South Africans and then make them work really hard to save the game,” he said.

Sangakkara, whose first three innings in the series were 1, 2 and 0, had not added to his overnight score of three when he edged the fourth ball of the morning, from Morne Morkel, towards Graeme Smith at first slip. Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher dived for the ball, obscuring Smith’s vision, and the South African captain put down the chance.

Sangakkara made the home side pay as he constructed a classy innings in overcast and gloomy conditions. Overnight and morning rain delayed the start by an hour and the floodlights were on during most of the day.

Sangakkara reached his fifty off 102 balls with four fours and then took command, scoring his second fifty off only 59 deliveries, adding nine more boundaries. It was his 28th Test century.

“I had to work quite hard in the nets after my first three innings,” he said. “It was a case of going back to the basics and watching the ball a lot better.”

First innings century-maker Samaraweera shared a crucial fourth wicket stand with Sangakkara after the first three wickets had fallen for 44 runs to give South Africa hope of bowling themselves back into contention despite trailing by 170 runs on the first innings.

Samaraweera made 43 before being deceived by a googly from Imran Tahir which he edged into his stumps.

Sri Lanka pressed home their advantage as Sangakkara and new cap Chandimal scored at almost a run a minute. Chandimal followed up his first innings 58 with 54 and earned high praise from Sangakkara.

“He was so impressive in this game, making his debut, getting twin fifties, batting in difficult conditions and building partnerships to get us into dominant positions.

“He showed that with a lot of hard work he can make quite an impact for us, batting at seven and keeping wicket.”(AFP)

Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 338 and 256 for 7(Kumar Sangakkara 108, Dinesh Chandimal 54; Dale Steyn 3 for 54, Imran Tahir 2 for 64) lead South Africa 168 all-out (Hashim Amla 54, Dale Steyn 29; Chanaka Welegedara 5 for 52, Rangana Herath 4 for 49) by 426 runs

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