Port Elizabeth: Completely written off at the start, Sri Lanka need 137 more runs for a startling series victory in South Africa and the first sweep over the Proteas at home by anyone in more than a decade.
The Sri Lankans were 60-2 at stumps on the second day of the second Test at St. George’s Park on Friday, chasing a target of 197 to win the match, clinch the series 2-0, and confirm a major upset.
South Africa won seven straight series at home before Sri Lanka, struggling for form, pulled off the first shock of the tour by chasing down 304 to win the first Test and ensure they would at least draw the contest.
The victory target for Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth was much easier than the first Test, although South Africa’s fast bowlers struck twice late on the second day to make it clear they weren’t going to give up that home record easily.
Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier removed openers Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne, the captain, in consecutive overs to leave Sri Lanka tottering at 34-2.
Kusal Mendis strode in and swiped two fours through the covers to take Sri Lanka to the close. Oshada Fernando was with him on 17 not out.
Sri Lanka arrived in South Africa off three straight series defeats and with a patched up, inexperienced team under new captain Dimuth Karunaratne. Dinesh Chandimal was discarded after leading the Sri Lankans to two heavy defeats to the Aussies.
Everyone was expecting an easy victory for South Africa, who beat Pakistan 3-0 last month and have seen off India and Australia in recent home series.
Instead, Sri Lanka have a chance of sweeping the South Africans at home for the first time since Ricky Ponting’s Australia won 3-0 in South Africa in 2006 — the only time post-apartheid that South Africa have been blanked in a home series.
No Asian team — not even mighty India or Pakistan — have even won a series in South Africa, let alone swept one.
Sri Lanka’s push for victory was made possible by their bowlers, who exposed frailties in the South Africa batting through the series and bowled the home team out for 128 in their second innings earlier on day two. That South African collapse saw the home team throw away a 68-run first-innings lead.
Quick Suranga Lakmal took 4-39, stand-in spinner Dhananjaya de Silva 3-36 and South Africa lost seven wickets for 38 runs in what might be a series-deciding slump.
South Africa 1st innings 222 all out
Sri Lanka 1st innings 154
South Africa 2nd innings 128 all out: Du Plessis 50, Amla 32; Lakmal 4-39
Sri Lanka 2nd innings 60-2: Karunaratne 19, Fernando 17; Olivier 1-10