A top-class century by Faf du Plessis led South Africa to a narrow lead at lunch on the third day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Monday.
Du Plessis went into the break on 112 not out, reaching three figures after a drought of 19 innings, as the Proteas posted 435 for six, a lead of 39. On a pitch where the bounce is already inconsistent and likely to get worse, it is absolutely crucial that South Africa, who will have to bat last, enjoy a sizeable first-innings advantage.
The Proteas began the third day on 317 for four and lost just a single wicket in the morning session, that of Temba Bavuma for a typically skilful and determined 71. He and Du Plessis added a vital 179 for the fifth wicket, a record for South Africa against Sri Lanka, eclipsing the 161 Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers put on in Colombo in 2006.
Bavuma fell in interesting circumstances, aiming a flashing back-foot drive at Dasun Shanaka and not waiting for a decision from the umpire as the tourists appealed for a catch behind the wicket. While Snicko suggested there was not a deflection off the bat, the batsman clearly felt he had edged the ball and left the crease without a moment’s hesitation.
The departure of Bavuma brought Wiaan Mulder to the crease and the all-rounder had collected a couple of crunching boundaries as he reached 18 not out.
Sri Lanka took the second new ball as soon as it became available in the ninth over of the day as they sought the breakthrough, but the positive Du Plessis continued to defy them. His experienced presence in the middle-order has proved vital as South Africa recovered from losing three wickets for 20 runs on the second afternoon.
Always looking to score, Du Plessis has stroked 16 fours off the 161 deliveries he has faced and will now be looking to turn his polished century into a match-winning innings.