South Africa’s remarkable defiance at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo was the best "winning save" he ever experienced, even better than the extraordinary escape in Adelaide in 2012 when Faf du Plessis batted for 466 minutes to deny Australia the spoils, said Allan Donald, the South African bowling coach.
"It was tougher and better than Adelaide," Donald told the supersport.com website.
South Africa survived for 111 overs to score 159 for eight, as Hashim Amla (25 off 159 balls), Quinton de Kock (37 off 92 deliveries), Vernon Philander (27 not out off 98 balls) and AB de Villiers (12 off 67 balls) played with steely determination to frustrate Sri Lanka in the second and final test in Colombo.
Consequently, South Africa won the series 1-0, their first Test win in Sri Lanka in 21 years.
Faf du Plessis faced 376 balls in Adelaide and AB de Villiers assisted him with his stonewalling for 246 minutes as South Africa reached 248 for eight in 148 overs of grit against the Baggy Greens.
But Donald said what made the South African effort tougher in Colombo, was that the Proteas faced spin from the morning until the end of the day’s play.
"It was world-class spin bowling by Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera and the ball turned almost square out of the rough.
"The spinners were amazing. I’m still waiting for Rangana to bowl a bad delivery," added Donald.
South Africa has performed some miracles in adverse conditions on many occasions. An example was the 450 for seven in December 2013 when Du Plessis scored 134 off 395 balls and De Villiers smashed 103 off 168 balls to take South Africa to within seven runs of glory against India.
Neil McKenzie batted for 553 minutes and faced 447 deliveries at Lord’s in 2008, while Graeme Smith endured 207 balls in compiling a superb 107. Hashim Amla contributed an excellent 104 off 242 balls as South Africa frustrated the English attack to force a draw.
Gary Kirsten, a former South African opener, scored a monumental 275 in 868 minutes and faced 642 deliveries in 1999 to secure a draw at Kingsmead when England enforced the follow-on.
Yet, Donald still holds the opinion that Colombo was arguably South Africa’s finest winning save.
The four left-handed SA batsmen only managed four runs between them in the first innings and survived only 83 balls, but three Proteas left-handers scored 53 runs and collectively dealt with 37 overs in the second innings.
Asked what made the difference in their improved performance, Russell Domingo, the SA coach, said the left-handers were more circumspect and made sure they spent more time on the side of the wicket with the least rough patches.
Donald said the left-handers batted more on off-stump and tried to play the ball at the last possible moment.
“We also sent in Quinnie (Quinton de Kock) at No 3 to play his natural game and to be positive,” said Donald.
“Our approach was not to be concerned with the wicket too much, but to keep our focus simple,” he added.
“It was our best save against the unrelenting pressure and unwavering accuracy of the Sri Lankan spinners,” he added.