Rabada double puts South Africa on course

South African bowler Kagiso Rabada (CL) and captain Faf du Plessis (L) celebrate the dismissal of Sri Lanka batsman Kusal Mendis during the fourth day of the first Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka on December 29, 2016 at the Port Elizabeth cricket ground in Port Elizabeth. / AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Two crucial breakthroughs by Kagiso Rabada helped South Africa whittle away at a stubborn Sri Lankan line-up on the fourth day of the first Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Thursday (December 29).

Having been set an improbable 488 for victory after South Africa declared its second innings closed at 406 for 6, Sri Lanka was 240 for 5 at the close of play. Angelo Mathews, the skipper, and Dhananjaya de Silva were in the middle, the last recognised pair keeping Sri Lankan hopes alive.

Paceman Rabada twice dismissed set batsmen, both times with the second ball of a new spell, to eat into Sri Lanka’s resistance. He first trapped Kaushal Silva leg before wicket for 48 with his second ball after tea. Then, late on a hot afternoon, he broke a 75-run partnership between Mathews and Kusal Mendis.

Mendis tried to a ramp a fast, short delivery bowled from around the wicket and only feathered it through to Quinton de Kock, the wicketkeeper, for 58.

Sri Lanka, which had been shot out for 205 in its first innings with several batsmen playing poor strokes in seam-friendly conditions, made South Africa work hard for its wickets on a pitch which had lost most of its earlier life.

It wasn’t until a mix-up after 145 minutes together involving Dimuth Karunaratne and Silva, the openers who put on 87, that South Africa had its first breakthrough.

Silva pushed a ball from Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm spinner, into the covers and set off for a run. Both batsmen hesitated momentarily, JP Duminy picked up and released the ball quickly to de Kock, who broke the stumps with a diving Karunaratne (43) just short of the crease.

Two overs later, Kusal Perera attempted an expansive cut and was caught behind, also off Maharaj.

Silva and Mendis saw Sri Lanka through to tea without further damage before Rabada struck again to dismiss Mendis for a stylish 90-ball innings that contained nine fours.

Maharaj, who bowled 22 overs unchanged, had Dinesh Chandimal caught at mid-on as the batsman charged down the wicket. Chandimal had been put down by Stephen Cook at mid-off trying a similar shot five runs earlier.

Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva saw out the day, de Silva surviving on review after being given out leg before to Kyle Abbott, bowling with the second new ball, two overs from the close.

Earlier, Faf du Plessis and de Kock added 55 runs in 10.5 overs on Thursday before de Kock missed a sweep against Rangana Herath, the left-arm spinner, and was trapped leg before. De Kock made 69 off 86 balls and du Plessis, the captain, was unbeaten on 67, also made off 86 deliveries, at the declaration.

The pair put on 129, a record sixth-wicket partnership for South Africa against Sri Lanka. It was the third century stand of an innings during which South Africa scored at 4.47 runs an over.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)