The Cape Town monster was more in Sri Lanka’s own mind than the startling nature of the Newlands pitch, but the monster reared its head nevertheless on the second day of the second Test and engulfed them in a trice. South Africa had been candid about their wish for a pitch offering pace and seam, and it was delivered to order effectively enough, but Sri Lanka’s disintegration to 110 all out represented a huge overstatement of the difficulties they faced.
Sri Lanka were spared the follow-on – South Africa instead stretched their lead of 282 to 317 by the close – so escaping their fate on their last appearance in Cape Town five years ago. On that occasion Sri Lanka’s batsmen did have an alibi in that they were responding to South Africa’s 580 for 4. On this occasion, as nine wickets went down for 54 in 19.3 overs, their batting often lacked nous and sometimes verged on impulsiveness.
The chief instigator of Sri Lanka’s rickety resistance was Kagiso Rabada with three for 10 in 25 balls at the start of the final session. Vernon Philander then swept aside the tail with 4 for 5 in 12 balls as South Africa found things all too easy.
For Sri Lanka, it brought back memories of their batting inadequacies on their tour of England last May when they returned 91, 119 and 101 in successive Test innings in a chilly northern spring. It is easy to talk of irresponsibility, and that charge could be levelled against Dinesh Chandimal in particular, but Sri Lanka were never likely to replace giants like Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan without pain, especially as there is barely an indoor net in the country.
From South Africa’s perspective, at least it deflected attention away from Kyle Abbott after ESPNcricinfo revealed that he is agonising over whether to abandon his international career and take up a deal in England with Hampshire as a Kolpak player. CSA was expected to meet Abbott’s agent on Wednesday before making a statement.
Abbott, who went into his 11th Test with 39 wickets at 21.30, was given the new ball and a strong breeze at his back, but after tea he had a watching brief, remained wicketless and had much time to muse in the outfield about the meaning of life. For an international of his calibre to be seriously considering a county future at 29, whatever the outcome, is deeply disturbing not just for South Africa but for the future of Test cricket where there are already not enough strong teams to go round.
Sri Lanka’s openers survived diligently against the new ball – there was not much swing to be had in a buffeting wind – but such staunch beginnings did not last for long. Kaushal Silva was bowled by Rabada off an inside edge and then Kusal Mendis, who had met the introduction of the left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj by slog-sweeping him for six, envisaged a repeat in his next over and top-edged a simple catch into the off side.
As a thrilling accompaniment, Temba Bavuma almost pulled off a repeat of his wonderful run-out in Perth, Dimuth Karunaratne’s dive at the non-striker’s end just beating his pick-up and underarm flick from cover. Having been reminded of Bavuma’s brilliance, Karunaratne cut the third ball after tea, from Rabada, low to the fielder’s left and paid a predictable price.
Not all Sri Lanka’s dismissals were down to state of mind. Angelo Mathews pushed at a decent back-of-a-length ball from Rabada to be caught at second slip. But Dhananjaya de Silva was overly hasty as he sought to come down the pitch to Maharaj, got his feet in a muddle as he flicked to leg, and was lbw, despite a review. As for Chandimal’s wanton drive at a wide one from Rabada, that was inexplicable, especially for a vice-captain.
Philander was aching to get into the act. Three successive deliveries to Rangana Herath were followed by resounding lbw appeals. The third was given. Herath, who seemed resolutely intent on keeping his legs out of the way as the ball jagged back, understandably reviewed, but the decision was narrowly upheld.
Three balls later, Suranga Lakmal was caught at first slip – a knock-on from third – and the job was completed when Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Pradeep, the latter batting despite a thigh strain that prevented him from bowling, were rounded up in successive balls.
The morning had belonged largely to Quinton de Kock, who completed a third Test century as South Africa were dismissed at the end of a slightly extended session for 392. De Kock, who made 101, was one of six wickets for Kumara whose unflinching efforts in only his third Test pronounced himself a combative bowler of genuine promise.
De Kock does not spend too much time on reconnaissance: life is for living, and the sooner the better. Resuming on 68, he set the tone by confidently driving Lakmal’s introductory ball of the day to the extra-cover boundary. He secured an entertaining hundred around 40 minutes later, benefiting from a final slice of good fortune as an inside-edge against Kumara skimmed past leg stump.
He fell later in the over, jabbing a catch to the wicketkeeper as Kumara seamed a fullish ball away from around the wicket. Chandimal took the catch, back behind the stumps after handing his duties to Mendis on the first day because of illness. Mendis had kept well, so encouraging a rapid recovery. There were seven keeper’s catches in all – plenty to share around.
Abbott, perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, fell in the second over of the day without adding to his overnight score of 16, the nightwatchman beaten by turn and bounce from the left-arm spinner Herath. In the absence of Pradeep, Herath conducted a holding operation with the gentle motions of a man philosophically getting up from a sofa to pick up the TV remote.
Kumara, as strong as a bullock, produced a delivery of excellent off-stump line to dismiss Philander and lunch was delayed with South Africa nine down. Kumara did not deserve that. He roused himself for a final time to have Rabada caught off an inside edge, finishing with 6 for 122. A bright spot for Sri Lanka on a bleak day. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)