South Africa 455-9 dec. & 206-6 dec. v
Sri Lanka 292 & 110-1 (Sangakkara 58no)
First Test, Galle, day four
An unbeaten final session partnership of 96 between Kaushal Silva and Kumar Sangakkara has left the first Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa at Galle firmly in the balance.
Going into the the final day the hosts are 110 for one, 260 shy of their 370-run target while the visitors require a further nine wickets to seal a first Test victory on Sri Lankan soil since July 2000.
The opening two sessions of the fourth day painted a similar picture to what had gone before, with Morne Morkel clinching the one remaining Sri Lanka wicket to provide his side a lead of 163 before South Africa’s batsmen positively forced home their advantage
They reached tea at 206 for six and it was at that point that Hashim Amla – making his Test captaincy bow – made the bold but eyebrow-raising decision to dangle Sri Lanka a rather large carrot by opting to declare.
That Amla was afforded that declaration opportunity was down to an all-rounder batting effort from South Africa’s top order, with four batsmen passing 30 – the pick of those innings being AB de Villiers’s attacking 51 off just 56 balls, with Quinton de Kock also offering a swift 36.
For Sri Lanka Dilruwan Perera captured figures of four for 79, including the scalps of both de Kock and de Villers, while Rangana Herath chipped in with the remaining two wickets to fall. The spin duo bowling 41 of the 50 overs South Africa batted.
The Proteas progressed circumspectly to lunch, taking 22 overs to reach 63 for the loss of both openers, before Amla (22) combined with de Villiers and de Kock to move them through the gears during an afternoon session that yielded 143 runs at a run rate of 5.1 per over.
The early scalp of Upul Tharanga – who edged Dale Steyn behind for just 14 - suggested Amla’s gamble might be a worthy one, however that what as good as it would get for the tourists with Silva and Sangakkara progressing serenely to stumps.
Sangakkara looked in particularly daunting touch with a flowing 58 from just 89 balls taking the 36-year-old to a remarkable eighth half-century in his last nine innings, with Silva (34 not out) thus far proving a resolute foil.
If Sri Lanka do get home it would signify not only the highest successful chase at Galle – the current being a miniscule 95 – but also the highest ever fourth innings total at the ground in Test match cricket.
South Africa’s hopes of averting such a scenario look to reside with Steyn given that Imran Tahir’s spin has thus far proved of minimal threat.
After three days of being largely under the pump, Silva and Sangakkara have allowed Sri Lanka the shot of an unlikely victory and on a pitch offering little Amla could be forgiven for rethinking what now appears a more than dicey declaration decision.
© Cricket World 2014