Cape Town – South Africa are handsomely poised, later on Wednesday, to set embattled Sri Lanka a record Newlands target for victory in the second Test.
There was inevitable debate around the wisdom or otherwise of the decision by home skipper Faf du Plessis not to enforce the follow-on during dramatic day two, when the tourists were routed for 110 after a tenacious enough start and trailed by 282 on the first knock.
But with a hot middle day of the Test expected – temperatures in the mid-30s – and the fact that this is the second of back-to-back matches, there were certainly enough reasons to justify Du Plessis not going for the jugular more swiftly and instead giving his four-man attack a bit of feet-up liberty.
The bean counters at the ground would not have been whingeing, you can be sure, as the Proteas batting again hugely increased the likelihood of the Test going at least into the fourth day before the ever-enthusiastic Capetonian public.
With so much time in the contest left – even if SA were to bat until tea on Wednesday in the second innings, they would have a massive seven sessions to complete the series-clinching job – the prospect looked rosy that Du Plessis would make the ‘Lankans hunt down a record total.
“I think 500 would be the ideal number,” SuperSport commentator and former national captain Shaun Pollock suggested early in the third day’s play, and it may even be a little northward of that unless there is an inexplicable collapse by the Proteas.
Since South Africa’s return from isolation in 1992, the highest fourth-knock target set at the famous ground has been 511 -- at the time of writing the Proteas were right on course to potentially make it even bigger.
On that occasion, in 2013/14, they were the ones asked to chase that particular figure by Australia in what turned out to be Graeme Smith’s swansong match, and SA were duly dismissed for 265 to lose by 245 runs.
There has been just one other instance in the post-isolation period of a team being set 500-plus to win at Newlands: England were asked to make 501 in 2004/05 and were bowled out for 304.
The highest fourth-innings Test total ever managed at the ground is West Indies’ 354 for five in 2003/04, when they earned a brave draw having been set 441.
Meanwhile the highest successful run chase is when the Aussies of 2001/02, set 331, got to 334 for six -- aided in the conquest by an unbeaten century from Ricky Ponting.
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