Kusal Perera fifty keeps Sri Lanka’s hopes alive

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Niroshan Dickwella is caught and bowled by Dale Steyn © AFP

Lunch Sri Lanka 191 and 166 for 5 (Kusal 56*, de Silva 25*, Steyn 2-42) need 138 more to beat South Africa 235 and 259 (du Plessis 90, Embuldeniya 5-66)

South Africa made further inroads into Sri Lanka’s line-up on the fourth morning at Kingsmead, a Dale Steyn double strike denting the visitors after Oshada Fernando and Kusal Perera had added 58 for the fourth wicket. But those were the only two wickets the hosts managed to pick up in the session. Kusal brought up his second fifty of the match in the course of an unbroken 56-run stand with Dhananjaya de Silva that left the game finely balanced as Sri Lanka went to lunch at 166 for 5, needing another 138 runs to win.

South Africa were without the services of Vernon Philander in the session as he didn’t take field after picking up a hamstring niggle overnight, and so it was Steyn and Kagiso Rabada who shared the early duties this morning. After a placid start, Rabada beat Fernando’s edge twice in the over but the batsman struck back with a sumptuous on drive that brought the first boundary of the morning.

That shot was the only flourish on an otherwise watchful first half hour for Fernando, but after holding firm for 75 deliveries, his patience and judgement eventually failed him as the 76th he faced – bowled by Steyn – moved away off the pitch as he pressed forward. It was a ball he might have left but instead edged to a tumbling Faf du Plessis at second slip to bring the morning’s first breakthrough.

The second was only two more deliveries in coming as Niroshan Dickwella played too early at one that might have just stopped a little in the pitch to send a firm return catch back at Steyn, who popped his right hand out to pluck it out of the air. Just as Fernando and Kusal’s stand was starting to provide hope, Sri Lanka slipped from 110 for 3 to 110 for 5 in a flash.

While Fernando’s knock was defined by patience and some graceful timing, Kusal’s methods were rather more pugilistic and he responded to the two quick wickets with a pull off Rabada and a rasping aerial cut off Steyn to move into the 40s before the first drinks break arrived. Another cut, this time off Keshav Maharaj, and a reverse sweep in the space of one over took Kusal to fifty.

Maharaj had bowled only three overs in Sri Lanka’s first innings, but he was given an extended spell in the second hour of the day before lunch, bowling in tandem with Duanne Olivier. Dhananjaya de Silva took his time getting settled against both bowlers as Olivier, in particularly, gave him a working over with a persistent short-ball attack.

Dhananjaya brought up the fifty stand with a sweep through square leg off Maharaj, while at the other end Kusal shelved his shots as the lunch interval approached. With both batsmen holding firm, and Philander unlikely to play any further part today, their partnership will have kept Sri Lanka hoping – although one or two quick wickets in the second session could easily swing the game once more.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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