TELFORD VICE at St George’s Park
PATIENCE. If you’re from the Eastern Cape you know more about this slow, strange stuff than you dreamed there was to know. If you’re not from these parts you don’t know nearly enough.
None of the men in Faf du Plessis’ team are from the Eastern Cape. Good thing, then, that in their bid to win the first test they’re being given a masterclass in patience by the Sri Lankans’ yin and St George’s Park’s yang.
That goal was five wickets away for South Africa and 248 runs in the distance for the Lankans at stumps on Thursday.
The thought that South Africa will not win won’t enter many minds when the visitors resume on Friday on 240/5 in search of their rapidly receding target of 488 – a tower taller than any they have yet climbed in any of their 253 previous tests, and more than any team have scored in the 61 fourth innings undertaken before in this country.
But the visitors have already shown patience, much of it by their captain, Angelo Mathews, who has tempered glamour with grit and delivered a fine innings of 58 that, happily, will continue on Friday.
How much more precious patience the remaining Sri Lankan batsmen can afford to spend on a lost cause is pertinent, especially with the second test at Newlands looming as incredibly loud and extremely close as Monday.
The South Africans will ask themselves something similar from the perspective that they might field first in Cape Town.
Not that they can do much about the pitch, perennially as curmudgeonly as they come, refusing to deteriorate to the level we know it can.
On Thursday, despite a constant easterly breeze – supposedly what Kryptonite is to Superman on this most gorgeously gothic of grounds – precious little in the way of variable bounce, reverse swing or even sharpish turn was evident.
Honestly, leave extra grass on this damn fool pitch, as was done to take the sting out of straight-break specialist Rangana Herath, and suddenly it thinks it has a mind of its own. Gotta love the otherwise old bastard.
None of which could apply nearly as much on Friday as it has done so far. Keshav Maharaj, for instance, looked more of a threat as the afternoon wasted elegantly towards dusk.
Vernon Philander, too, who showed again in the first innings that he is back to his rasping best, can surely not beat the bat too many more times without reward.
But there was batting backbone out there on Thursday in the shape of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, whose stand of 87 was Sri Lanka’s highest for the first wicket in all 11 tests they have played in South Africa.
They were separated by JP Duminy’s snappy pick-up-and-throw from the covers to run out Karunaratne for 43.
Fourteen balls later Kusal Perera, facing Maharaj, edged a cut as ragged as it was reckless to De Kock.
Silva, he of the twitchy hand jive and yoga-like back bend as he awaits the bowler, was trapped in front for 48 by Kagiso Rabada eight balls after tea.
Kaushal Mendis fought back by grinding out an old-fashioned half-century, Sri Lanka’s first of the match.
That he got himself out for 58 playing a new-fangled ramp shot to Rabada within sight of the last hour was a pity. With that a partnership of more than two hours and 75 runs shared with Angelo Mathews was snuffed out.
It was also lamentable that Dinesh Chandimal spooned a simple catch to mid-on off Maharaj even as the new ball – and stumps – hove into the equation.
There was no such freneticism about a first hour in which Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock batted on for 11.5 overs before Du Plessis called a halt on 406/6.
He was unbeaten on 67 and De Kock out for 69, and their partnership of 129 was the highest in a match in which all four century stands have been shared by South Africans.
They made it that far on application and industriousness. And another thing: patience.