TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
HOW many runs is too many for Sri Lanka to chase in their second innings at Newlands?
We should have an answer to that question before stumps are drawn after the third day’s play on Wednesday.
But, for now, we don’t.
“There’s a lot of time left in the test and it’s a bit early to go for a target,” Vernon Philander said after the close on Tuesday, which South Africa reached on 35 without loss – already a lead of 317.
“We’ve got to respect the opposition and start well again in the morning.
“Hopefully we can make a decision at lunchtime as to what’s a good target and how quickly we want to get there.”
Lahiru Kumara, the 19-year-old whose 6/122 is the best performance by a Lankan fast bowler in a test innings in South Africa, had a firmer idea of the magic number: “If we can restrict South Africa to 250, that could be realistic.”
South Africa are in control because Philander and the rest of their attack bowled superbly to snuff out Sri Lanka’s first innings for 110.
That earned the home side, who made 392 in their first innings, a lead of 282; enough to tell the Lankans to follow on.
Part of the reason that didn’t happen was the fact that there were only two days between the first and second tests.
“We’ve taken a decision as to what’s the best chance for us to win this game,” Philander said.
“We feel that setting the game up with the bat and giving the bowlers a break – these are back-to-back tests and we had quite a busy workload in PE (where the first test ended on Friday) – is the best way going forward and the best way for us to win this game.”
Philander took 4/27 on Tuesday, a haul that put him on 150 career wickets.
He claimed the last two of those scalps with consecutive deliveries, which means he will be on a hat-trick when he stands at the top of his run in Sri Lanka’s second innings.
It’s all a far cry from where he was this time last year after tearing ankle ligaments during South Africa’s tour to India.
“I cherish every moment just being back because I know what a frustration it was being out of the game for seven to eight months,” he said.
“I just want to go out there and perform at my best every time I get an opportunity.
“When you’re out of the game you really miss those moments and you start to feel what it’s like not being a part of it.”
Cricket has been part of Philander’s life for more than half of his 31 years, so to be denied it for as long as he was would have challenged him on a range of levels.
But the game comes differently to other players, Kumara among them.
“I played hockey, not cricket, at school,” Kumara said.
“One day I was hit on the back of my head by a stick and taken to hospital.
“When I came home my parents had thrown away all of my hockey equipment.”
Now Kumara, like Philander, can’t imagine life without cricket.
And, in particular, international cricket.
They will be shocked, then, at unconfirmed reports from England that claim Kyle Abbott is about to turn his back on the international arena.
If the stories are accurate Abbott will not be the first South African to take up a Kolpak deal and he surely will not be the last, a truth not lost on Philander.
“That’s a personal decision each player has to make for themselves,” he said. “We’ve got to respect that as fellow players.
“If they feel that’s the best route going forward in their careers, we respect it.”
Cricket South Africa said they were due to meet Abbott’s agent on Wednesday.