Hashim Amla gave Sri Lanka four sessions to chase 370 and the hosts began strongly, knocking 110 off the target with Kumar Sangakkara’s unbeaten fifty. Sharp turn and bounce finally made an appearance when South Africa batted, but they rode on a 163-run first-innings cushion to score at more than four an over to set up the declaration. The South African spinners were not consistent enough again to be a persistent threat, and Sangakkara and Kaushal Silva collected 96 after Dale Steyn took out Upul Tharanga.
Tharanga was eager to drive, and edged to the wicketkeeper for 14 when he attempted one. Steyn welcomed Sangakkara with a snorter that was fended awkwardly, but the batsman was in little trouble after that, just like in the first innings. He got going with two fours in an over off Vernon Philander. Imran Tahir repeatedly provided the boundary ball. He did lure Sangakkara out once, only for the batsman to escape with an inside edge past the keeper. Two balls later arrived a full toss, which Sangakkara hit for six. On a day four pitch with sizeable rough outside the left-hander’s off stump, South Africa would have wanted their lone specialist spinner to not bowl frequent full tosses and long hops. JP Duminy served up long hops as well with his offspin, and it was Silva’s turn to cash in.
Steyn was brought back for a late burst but Silva, who had ducked and left superbly in the first innings, survived with similar skill again.
AB de Villiers had shown expertise of his own in making a breezy fifty that made light of the difficult batting conditions. All South Africa needed to do was avoid a collapse in the second innings, and the top order ensured that. The middle order provided the push, led by de Villiers.
Some of the dismissals would not have enthused Sri Lanka’s batsmen, on a ground where the highest successful chase is 95. Dean Elgar inside-edged a drive to the wicketkeeper as Rangana Herath spun one in considerably from the rough outside the left-hander’s off stump. Faf du Plessis lost his off stump as Herath jagged one across his back-foot defence from the same rough.
At the other end, De Villiers made 51 off 58, using various versions of the sweep to pick up boundaries. He swept Herath against the turn, and Dilruwan Perera with the turn. He saw deep square leg nearly reach a sweep on the full, so he lapped the next ball much finer for four more. He stayed beside the line and square-drove, he stepped out to take deliveries on the full and ease them through midwicket.
Hashim Amla did all of the above barring the sweep, but he fell to his second soft and cheap dismissal of the match, when he chipped Perera to short midwicket for 22.
Elgar and Alviro Petersen had tried camping on the back foot to tackle the turn and resorted to the sweep and reverse-sweep but the spinners soon broke through. Petersen fought back as long as he lasted. He reverse-swept Perera for fours on either side of being beaten by a straighter one. All the spin had made this delivery particularly dangerous, and it claimed Petersen for 32 when he pushed inside the line and was given caught behind. In the absence of Hot Spot and Snicko, there was nothing conclusive for the third umpire to hold against Billy Bowden’s decision on Petersen’s review.
Du Plessis nudged the spinners around and attacked the lone fast bowler Suranga Lakmal to contribute 37. Quinton de Kock again had nervy moments against spin but prospered after a dropped caught-and-bowled chance by Herath to make a swift 36. He eventually pushed one back to the bowler Perera which led the umpires to signal tea and South Africa declared during the break.
The spinners bowled all but nine of the 50.2 overs South Africa batted as the injured Shaminda Eranga did not take the field after his batting labours in the morning. The final pair of Herath and Eranga lasted just shy of five overs, with de Villiers ending the former’s resistance with a spectacular diving take at second slip off Morne Morkel.
Eranga came out to bat with eight stitches in the webbing of his right hand and had a tape securing his thumb and index finger. The fast bowler still played out an entire over from Dale Steyn, wincing in pain as a yorker thudded into his bat. He was unconquered after facing 12 deliveries, taking the right hand off the bat whenever he could while defending.
Sri Lanka may or may not need him on the final day. The longest any side has batted in Galle in the fourth innings is 114 overs.