The runs flowed for Faf du Plessis and South Africa on the third day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Monday, but while the Proteas’ former captain will be delighted with his own performance and the strong position of his team, he will be hankering after just one more run.
That’s because Du Plessis became just the second South African batsman and 11th overall to be dismissed for 199, just one run short of his first double century. After 412 minutes and 276 balls at the crease, Du Plessis tried to belt Wanindu Hasaranga over the top but his on-drive failed to clear a wide mid-on and he joined Dean Elgar in the 199 club.
Elgar was sitting outside the changeroom and he lowered his head into his arms, giving Du Plessis a consolatory rub on the head as he walked past him, and then sank back to his haunches, head down and no doubt contemplating the mixed emotions he knows so well.
Hasaranga, on debut, also experienced the ebbs and flows of Test cricket as he took four wickets but conceded 171 runs in 45 overs, as well as injuring his leg on the boundary and having to leave the field for a while. It only added to the woes of a depleted Sri Lankan attack that was already missing Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and Dhananjaya de Silva.
And South Africa took full advantage: Having begun the day with a deficit of 79, they piled on the runs to such an extent that by the time they were bowled out for 621 – their highest ever total at SuperSport Park – they had accumulated a commanding lead of 225.
Temba Bavuma provided a fluent, classy 71 before he seemed unfortunate to be dismissed caught behind off Dasun Shanaka; except the batsman himself walked almost immediately. It was only when replays suggested his flashing drive outside off stump had made no contact with the ball that questions began to be asked.
Bavuma and Du Plessis added 179 for the fifth wicket, the key partnership after South Africa had lost three wickets for 20 on the second afternoon, and Wiaan Mulder then looked comfortable as he contributed 36 in a sixth-wicket stand of 77.
By then, it had become one-way traffic and Keshav Maharaj was able to stroke a career-best 73 as he and ‘Fantastic Faf’ added another 133.
Being in the field for 142.1 overs maybe explained the tired shots Dimuth Karunaratne, who also had to bowl 6.5 overs, and Kusal Mendis, who bowled seven overs, played as they were both dismissed cheaply by Lungi Ngidi.
But the runs were still flowing at SuperSport Park and with positive intent and solid technique, Kusal Perera (33*) and Dinesh Chandimal (21*) were able to take Sri Lanka to 65 for two at the close.
With their deficit still 160, however, and injuries potentially robbing them of three wickets as the pitch gets more up-and-down, there is no doubt South Africa are in the driver’s seat.