Colombo: The Castle Lager Proteas face an enormous test of both character and skill as they go about the job of fighting their way back into the second Test against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo.
By the close of play on the second day on Friday they had reached 98/3 in their first innings for an overall deficit of 323 after Sri Lanka had been dismissed for 421 in their first innings.
The task facing the Proteas can be summed up in the analyses of Sri Lanka’s two main spin bowlers, Ragana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, who, between them, have taken two wickets for 40 runs in 28 overs. They both struck early in their spells, Alviro Petersen falling to a return catch to the left-hander and Dean Elgar perishing to a bat-and-pad chance off the off-spinner.
Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis started to repair the damage with a third-wicket stand of 58 in 30 overs and the baton has now been passed to Amla and his senior lieutenant, AB de Villiers.
There was some relief for the Proteas batsmen when Sri Lanka introduced their lesser spinners, Ajantha Mendis and Kithuruwan Vithanage, into the attack.
The Proteas can draw encouragement from the fact that Sri Lanka were in a similar position at a similar stage of their first innings that saw them two down for 16 and three down for 115.
What Amla and De Villiers have to do is to match the superb fightback led by Mahela Jayawardene and supported by Angelo Mathews and debutant, Niroshan Dickwella.
Jayawardene and Dickwella continued the Sri Lanka drive towards 400 on the second morning and they nearly got there before Jayawardene (165, 456 minutes, 284 balls, 17 fours and a six) was run out by a Petersen direct hit. In truth it was the only way that he looked like using his wicket such was his mastery.
Not surprisingly, Dickwella did not look quite so composed after Jayawardene’s departure but at the same time it has to be said that Sri Lanka have unearthed another young gem who will be quite capable of holding a place down as specialist batsman regardless of his wicketkeeping ability. It could not have come at a better time with Tillekeratne Dilshan having departed the Test scene and Jayawardene about to follow suit.
It also took a run out to get rid of the young left-hander (72, 195 minutes, 116 balls, 8 fours and a six), this time courtesy of a direct hit by another talented youngster, Quinton de Kock, who again finished with four dismissals in the innings in addition to the run out.
Once they got into the tail the Proteas finished the innings in quick style taking 4/26 in the post lunch session.
Vernon Philander, who had little or no luck for most of the innings, was responsible for two of them and deservedly finished with the best figures for the Proteas of 2/52 in 21.4 overs.
Sri Lanka - 421 (Jayawardene 165, Dickwella 72, Mathews 63)
South Africa - 98 for 3 (Amla 46*)
Status - South Africa trail by 323 runs