From early on in the innings the intent was clear: Sri Lanka were chasing 488 for victory, rather than drawing shutters and playing for the draw. But as play ended on 240 for 5 on day four, at least four batsmen were left rueing dismissals that might have been avoided.
Dimuth Karunaratne, perhaps was chief among them, having been run out for 43, after seeming comfortable at the crease. He and Kaushal Silva had also put on 87 for the first wicket – Sri Lanka’s best opening stand in the country – before Silva called Karunaratne through for a quick single to cover. Karunaratne would have made his ground had he not initially hesitated, but was eventually found to be a few centimetres short at the striker’s end, despite having dived.
“It was all my mistake I think,” Karunaratne said of his run out. “Kaushal and I both play for the SSC, so we bat together and there’s no misunderstanding. But I tweaked a muscle playing a reverse sweep earlier, and that was playing on my mind a bit. I stopped and tried to start again, and that’s why I was run out.”
Karunaratne has been short of runs in 2016, averaging 29.29 for the year, and only 16.77 if his 280 runs against Zimbabwe are removed. His failure to progress to a big score at Port Elizabeth has stung.
“I did the hardest part in the earlier overs. I was beginning to see the ball well and then got run out and things were getting easier. The worst thing to do in a Test match is getting run out in a situation like that. I will have to start again in the next matches and survive the early overs again. But it’s part and parcel of the game and there’s nothing you can do.”
Three other batsmen were out playing expansive strokes, and from those, Dinesh Chandimal’s dismissal shortly before the second new ball was due perhaps hurt Sri Lanka the most. Chandimal had been fenced in by South Africa’s tight fields and Keshav Maharaj’s tight lines – kept scoreless for a Maharaj over before he attempted a lofted on drive and sent the ball into the hands of mid on. He was out for 8 off 38 deliveries.
“Chandimal will be disappointed but he will learn,” Karunaratne said. “These are mistakes and we need to play better cricket. The wicket is good. We don’t have to play risky shots. We have to spend enough time in the middle and see how it goes.”
Sri Lanka’s last recognised batting pair of Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva were at the crease at stumps, a highly improbable victory still 248 runs away. Karunaratne said Sri Lanka stood a chance if those batsmen could remain unbeaten in the first session of day five.
“If we can get through the morning session, who knows – we could win this match,” Karunaratne said. “For me, Kyle Abbott was the toughest bowler. He is quick and he moves the ball both ways. Vernon Philander also moves the ball both ways, but because he’s a bit slower, he can be managed. But Abbott and Kagiso Rabada will be tough. If the batsmen can play them well, we have a chance.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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