Andrew Fidel Fernando in ESPNcricinfo, December 2020.
South Africa 621 (du Plessis 199, Elgar 95, Maharaj 73, Bavuma 71, Markram 68) beat Sri Lanka 396 (Chandimal 85, de Silva 79, Shanaka 66*, Sipamla 4-76) and 180 (Perera 64, Hasaranga 59, Sipamla 2-24) by an innings and 45 runs
South Africa’s quicks tore through a beleaguered Sri Lanka batting line-up in the first half of day four, to secure an innings victory in a match they have utterly dominated over the past two days. Wiaan Mulder made the early breakthroughs, but all the quicks contributed in this innings, taking two wickets apiece.
Sri Lanka had very much been in the Test in the first four sessions of play, but despite having made their highest-ever total in South Africa – 396 in the first innings – they nosedived alarmingly as injuries stacked up on injuries. Four of the batsmen who came to the middle on Tuesday were visibly hobbling, and one – Dhananjaya de Silva – didn’t take the field at all. Like much of day three’s play, there was no real tension in the match, and the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Kusal Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga hit boundary-laden half-centuries, but beyond that, there was no serious fight. No team had made more runs in the first innings and still suffered an innings defeat in South Africa.
Surprisingly, Mulder bowled ahead of Anrich Nortje and Lutho Sipamla in the morning, and justified that decision by posing difficult questions from Sri Lanka’s batsmen. He dismissed the struggling Dinesh Chandimal (who was running gingerly on what seemed to be a groin niggle), with a sharp inducker that pitched outside off and jagged in to hit Chandimal’s off stump, beating the inside edge. A few overs later, Mulder drew Niroshan Dickwella’s outside edge.
Perera had struck confident boundaries through the early overs of the day, but as wickets continued to tumble at the other end, he appeared more encumbered. He was dropped on 47 off the bowling of Mulder, when Faf du Plessis couldn’t hold on to a tough low chance diving across from second slip, but that miss would not cost South Africa much. He was eventually out for 64, nicking a nasty lifter from Nortje, having hit 10 fours in his 87-ball stay.
Dasun Shanaka survived 34 deliveries, attempting few of the big shots that had defined his unbeaten fifty in the first innings, but eventually was caught behind as well, off the bowling of Sipamla. Just on the stroke of lunch, Vishwa Fernando was also run out due to a mix-up with Hasaranga.
After lunch, Hasaranga raised mild hope that perhaps Sri Lanka would make South Africa bat again, as he struck repeated boundaries off the bowling of Keshav Maharaj in particular, moving to a maiden Test fifty on debut. By this stage, though, he was batting with Kasun Rajitha, who could barely hobble from end to end, and Hasaranga himself was visibly struggling with the thigh injury he sustained on the third day. He holed out off the bowling of Sipamla eventually, and South Africa claimed the last wicket to seal the match soon after that.
Sri Lanka must now recover, mentally and physically, for what appears to be an even sterner test of their character at the Wanderers, where they have always struggled. They will be without Dhananjaya de Silva for that match, but will hope that seamer Suranga Lakmal can enter the XI, and that Chandimal’s injury is not so severe as to keep him out.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf