Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Faf du Plessis put South Africa in control

Source: Cricinfo

by SportsDiction – 27, December, 2020

South Africa 317 for 4 (Elgar 95, Markram 68, du Plessis 55*) trail Sri Lanka 396 (Chandimal 85, de Silva 79, Sipamla 4-76) by 79 runs.

Aiden Markram sped to fifty, Dean Elgar made an assured 95, and then Faf du Plessis combined with Temba Bavuma for a 97-run stand late in the day, as South Africa wrested control of the Test from a substantially depleted Sri Lanka attack. They finished day two only 79 runs behind, with six wickets in hand. Aside from a brief period early in the third session, when they lost three wickets for 20 runs, their progress was largley untroubled, and usually rapid – the runs flowing at 4.4 an over.

Although South Africa did the bulk of their scoring in the afternoon and evening sessions, the day was defined by events that occurred before lunch. Before play, Dhananjaya de Silva was confirmed to have sustained a grade two tear in his left thigh, which means he can play no further part in the series, depriving Sri Lanka not only of a batsman, but also their only spinner with experience in South African conditions.

Early in South Africa’s innings, Sri Lanka also suffered the breakdown of frontline seamer Kasun Rajitha, who appeared to have injured his groin, and could not complete his third over, which he had just begun. He did not return to the field for the rest of the day, meaning Sri Lanka were missing a third of their bowling resources, and will likely play the rest of the Test that way. Dasun Shanaka, who had earlier hit an unbeaten fifty and is very much a batting allrounder, ended up having to bowl almost 17 overs in the day, to help the team out. Debutant legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga bowled 23 overs despite going at 4.3 an over.

It was the Markram-Elgar stand that sent South Africa briskly on their way after conceding 396, and of the two, Markram was the more eye-catching player early on in the 141-run opening stand. He drove sumptuously in the arc between cover and mid-on, as Sri Lanka’s quicks went looking for swing and pitched the new ball up.

Lahiru Kumara got a taste of Markram’s excellent form when he was hit for two boundaries in his first over after lunch. But he wasn’t just good against the drive-able lengths – he flicked balls away off his hip, and also carved them behind square on the off side when given room to free his shoulders. His half-century came off just 64 balls, with 44 of his runs having been scored in boundaries. This was perhaps the most wayward period of Sri Lanka’s day, ceding momentum to the opposition.

Elgar batted in Markram’s slipstream to start with, but at no stage seemed to be struggling. He survived a hopeful lbw appeal and review against Shanaka first ball after lunch, but worked himself into his innings with relative quietness, before playing more expansively after Markram reached his half-century. He was especially good through the leg side, as Sri Lanka went at his body, and he was severe on debutant Hasaranga, whom he clobbered for three successive square boundaries to reach his own fifty, off 71 balls.

Markram’s dismissal, for 68 off 94, barely hampered Elgar, who was by this stage picking off a plethora of loose deliveries off with aplomb. He progressed chancelessly until just after tea, when he made his fatal mistake – going through a drive a touch early and offering a sharp return catch to Shanaka who held on brilliantly. His was the middle wicket in the evening’s mini-collapse; Rassie van der Dussen had been caught behind off the bowling of Kumara just before, and Quinton de Kock would edge a Hasaranga topspinner to slip soon after.

Du Plessis and Bavuma quickly reasserted South Africa’s control over the situation, however. Bavuma was characteristically strong square of the pitch, while du Plessis was quick to punish bowlers down the ground, and work the singles around. As the session wore on, the toll of the day showed on Sri Lanka’s bowlers, as they began to stray again towards the close, employing more defensive fields, perhaps in an attempt to hold the fort until the second new ball became available. Du Plessis completed a half century in the last few overs, and remained not out on 55 off 81 at stumps.

Four Sri Lanka bowlers – Fernando, Kumara, Shanaka and Hasaranga – claimed a wicket apiece. Fernando and Shanaka were the most consistent – the only two to go at less than four an over, though Fernando was easily the more threatening of the two.

Earlier, while Sri Lanka were still batting, Shanaka had bludgeoned four sixes as South Africa’s quicks tried to bounce him out. He put on 67 for the seventh wicket with Rajitha, and finished not out on 66 off 87 after Lutho Sipamla wiped Sri Lanka’s tail out.