Cape Town – Should Hashim Amla have bolted the door on Sri Lanka a bit more tightly?
As it happened: SL v SA - Day 4
It’s a debate many Proteas supporters will be contemplating with just a hint of anxiety after the close of day four of the first Test in Galle on Saturday.
With the ever-dangerous home-team maestro Kumar Sangakkara to the fore, the Lankans have played themselves into a position in their second innings -- and the game’s decisive fourth -- to possibly strike for a daring victory after largely playing second fiddle thus far.
The veteran left-hander’s assured and attack-minded 58 not out in the final session leaves the Test tantalisingly poised, with the hosts now needing 260 runs with nine wickets left in a full day’s play to go 1-0 up and quickly ensure they cannot be beaten in the two-Test series.
Considering the increasingly clear-cut signs of pitch decay and the obvious pressures associated with batting on the last day, the advantage arguably still lies with South Africa – let’s not lose sight of that.
But as television commentator HD Ackerman pointed out just before stumps, if the Sunday weather plays ball (though small, niggling outbreaks of rain appear possible throughout) the draw may well have been taken out of the equation, making for a high-stakes and nervy climax to the encounter.
In the defence of new Proteas captain Amla, perhaps that was precisely what he wanted, and his reasonably audacious declaration at tea, setting Sri Lanka 370 in exactly four sessions, will come to be proved a masterstroke and immediate, large feather in his tactical cap.
But if things are to work out the way he wishes, he will almost certainly need his spinners – and particularly the sole specialist in leggie Imran Tahir – to show a better combination of both breakthrough oomph and discipline than they have in the Test thus far as the tourists try to apply real pressure.
Yes, that miracle man of fast bowling Dale Steyn, fortified by yet another five-wicket haul in the first innings, could have a major say once more, but on a surface dusting and turning after four days of wear and tear, the slower men will have to come to the party too.
It was noticeable on the scoreboard at Saturday’s close, and even at this relatively infant stage of the Lankan chase (we can call it that, yes?) that Sangakkara and Kaushal Silva have not only gone after Tahir and JP Duminy but also profited from their too-generous supply of buffet balls, as some like to brand them.
The enigmatic Tahir is especially under the microscope: he is the likelier match-winner of the two, but he is averaging 45 in his 14 rather up-and-down Tests (including the current one) and also conceding runs at three-and-a-half to the over, and if those stats don’t improve a crucial tad on Sunday, Sri Lanka may well be chuckling over a once seemingly unlikely win.
He is a frustrating beast because he almost always bowls some absolute rippers, and has done in Galle.
With a bit more luck, he might boast three or four precious scalps in this Test already, instead of merely the first-innings snaring of home captain Angelo Mathews, probably robbing him of a breezy century.
But as things stand his match figures are one for 115 and another unproductive day for Tahir could tilt the balance fairly markedly toward the Lankans.
Broadly speaking, though, the Proteas have played some pretty good cricket in the Test and there was certainly some refreshing, hunger-to-win confidence in Amla’s decision to close his team’s second knock when he did.
For the record, a personal inclination would have been for South Africa to thump a few more boundaries for 15-20 minutes after tea and instead set the Lankans 400 in slightly less time.
That would have provided better security in terms of “not losing”, while still allowing ample time to hunt the desired 10 wickets, and take into account the risk of run-leakage by frontline spinner Tahir ... not to mention also the fact that SA are under real scrutiny for their ball management in the field after Vernon Philander’s little brush with tampering impropriety.
But I will also doff my hat if the Proteas romp to a commendable victory and I am exposed, for the very little it matters, as an unnecessarily fretful old fart ...
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