Loose Dismissals Harm Sri Lanka In 488 Chase

December 30, 2016

A succession of soft dismissals left Sri Lanka in danger of a big defeat in the first Test despite their batsmen, almost without exception, looking comfortable at the crease in their pursuit of 488. No team has successfully chased more than 418 to win a Test match, but Sri Lanka suggested they were capable of giving South Africa a serious scare only to gift away four of the five wickets they lost on day four. Angelo Mathews, who witnessed two of these gifted wickets from the non-striker's end, was batting on 58 at stumps, and with him was Dhananjaya de Silva on 9.

A mix-up between Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva ended an 87-run stand for the first wicket, while a moment of overconfidence cost Kusal Mendis his wicket after he had added 75 for the fourth wicket with Mathews. Kusal Perera and Dinesh Chandimal frittered away their wickets as well, and at stumps, 248 adrift of their target, Sri Lanka were left counting what-ifs, with an entire day remaining on a pitch that seemed to have flattened out entirely after starting out as a green seamer.

South Africa declared 10.5 overs into the morning session, after Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock had completed half-centuries and stretched their overnight partnership to 129. The declaration arrived when Rangana Herath had de Kock lbw for 69, missing a sweep against a ball that was probably too full and too close to off stump to play the shot against safely.

Both Sri Lankan openers missed out on half-centuries, but showed they had worked on the weaknesses that had caused their first-innings dismissals. Silva was eventually lbw for the second time in the match when Rabada nipped one into him after tea, but had till then shown improved balance and alignment while dealing with South Africa's concerted effort to attack his stumps, and had looked particularly good while driving straight. Rabada's extra pace and bounce had discomfited him a couple of times before that. Before lunch, he had gloved a rising ball, managing to drop his bottom hand and keep the ball down in front of Quinton de Kock diving to his right behind the stumps. Then, in the second session, he had taken a blow to the shoulder while ducking into a bouncer delivered from wide of the crease.

Karunaratne, apart from a couple of moments when he lost concentration, was alive to the danger of playing away from his body. The seamers looked to get him nibbling with the angle across him, and then tried to go around the wicket as well, but he handled both lines well, making sure his hands didn't follow the ball when he was beaten. He was just getting into stride when he was dismissed, having moved from 20 off 90 balls to 43 off 113. He had hit three fours in that period of acceleration, including a sweetly-timed flick off Philander and a reverse-sweep off Maharaj immediately after the left-arm spinner had got one to spit at him out of the rough.

The opening stand ended when Silva pushed Maharaj into the covers and set off immediately. Karunaratne responded after a moment's hesitation, and that little stutter was enough to find him short of his crease when he dived to beat JP Duminy's throw to the keeper.

Then Perera, his place at No. 3 in question after his dismissal to a wild slash in the first innings, fell to another injudicious stroke, top-edging a cut against the turn off Maharaj when he was getting consistent turn and bounce out of the rough.

When Mathews walked in, Sri Lanka had lost three wickets for 31 runs either side of tea, but he immediately showed the positive intent of a man with a fourth-innings average of 69.37, rotating the strike comfortably at the start before stepping out to his 17th ball and drilling Keshav Maharaj back past him for four. Rabada fed him a wide long-hop and a full-toss in the next over, and he put both away to the boundary, before a back-foot whip off Maharaj took him to 25 off 27 balls.

Then, with Vernon Philander returning to the attack, Mathews made a strategic retreat, scoring only six runs off the next 29 balls he faced. He was perhaps mindful that he needed to be at the crease when the second new ball became available on a pitch where the old ball was doing almost nothing. By then, though, Silva had fallen to the daftest of shots, taking on the returning Rabada's around-the-wicket attack by making himself room and looking to ramp over the slips. All he managed was an edge to the keeper.

Mendis' innings had always promised that sort of end. His 58 had displayed a vast range of shots - notable among them an off-drive off Philander and a number of sweeps off Maharaj - but also a tinge of impetuosity. In the over before his dismissal, he had run down the track to Maharaj and looked to hit him over mid-on, mistimed his shot horribly, and fortuitously managed to hit the fielder on the bounce.

Chandimal didn't learn from Mendis' close shave against Maharaj. Having already been dropped once while going after the left-arm spinner - Dean Elgar putting him down at short extra-cover - he tried it again, with the new ball 2.4 overs away, and spooned the ball straight to mid-on.

South Africa took the new ball as soon as it was due, and came very close very early. Abbott, starting the 82nd over of Sri Lanka's innings, caught Dhananjaya de Silva shuffling too far across his stumps, and Bruce Oxenford upheld his lbw appeal immediately. De Silva reviewed - perhaps more in desperation than any real hope of getting the decision overturned - and ball-tracking saved him, suggesting the ball would have carried on to miss leg stump.

(espncricinfo)



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