AB de Villiers fell one short of his 13th Test century but still believes South Africa already have enough runs to have put the match beyond Sri Lanka. On a pitch that has offered something to the bowlers throughout, South Africa's currently lead by 209 runs with a wicket in hand.
De Villiers was dismissed for 99 after lashing at a wide ball and being caught at point by Sri Lanka's substitute fielder Dimuth Karunaratne. He had a brief consultation with the umpire on the field and then walked off. Replays showed that that there may have been some doubt about whether the ball had carried, but de Villiers chose not to review the decision.
"I was hoping that the umpire's would go upstairs," he said. "But, like Jacques Kallis always does, I wanted to ask the fielder. Rod [Tucker] asked me if I wanted to go upstairs and I said, 'No, let's ask the fielder.' We did ask him and he said he caught it. I haven't seen the highlights or the replay but its history now. I still back the fielder, if he said he caught it, that's it."
Sri Lanka's batting coach Marvan Atapattu was less philosophical about de Villiers decision. "That's a nice gesture but I'm not quite sure. I asked the fielder about it and he said he was pretty sure it was a clean catch. I myself, looking from inside wasn't very sure whether he caught it," Atapattu said, confessing that we would probably have had it reviewed. "After all, he was on 99. Personally, I wouldn't have [relied on the fielder], to be very honest."
The one run that separates de Villiers from a milestone may not make too much difference, because the South African No.4 believes his team have scored enough runs to only bat once. Their lead grew steadily as the day wore on and de Villiers said the team is hoping to extend it even further tomorrow morning. "We don't want to go and bat again, which shouldn't happen if we bowl really well," he said. "I would like us to get a big lead. There's more than enough time left in the game."
South Africa's last wicket pair of Mark Boucher and Imran Tahir has already put on 39-runs, with Tahir striking some massive blows at the end of the day. "Immi surprised all of us," de Villiers admitted. "We all know he is an attacking player but to actually hit the ball in the middle of the bat was quite surprising."
He had more serious words for Boucher's performance, which came with the wicketkeeper under pressure to justify prolonging his career. "He has been under a bit of pressure and to come through like that on a difficult wicket in a very difficult situation and to wag with the tail was unbelievable."
Boucher started slowly but combined with de Villiers for a seventh-wicket stand of 33 and Vernon Philander for 41 for the eighth-wicket, something that de Villiers says was the hallmark of South Africa's innings. "The highlight for me was the partnerships," he said. "It's easy for me to say I played a big knock and had a big influence on the game, which I did, but other boys also did pretty well."
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, failed to build on the two half-century partnerships they had and Atapattu wants to see a more convincing showing by them in the second innings. "There is no rocket science in batting on wickets like this," he said. "It's just that we didn't do it consistently. We need to be positive. The wicket is not the best batting wicket that you get. I would have thought that it will get better as the game progresses but I didn't see anything significantly better than yesterday, so there can't be a drastic change tomorrow."
De Villiers agreed that it would remain tricky for the batsmen and said South Africa's bowlers will again relish the prospect of producing on a seamer-friendly surface. "I can't wait to see our bowlers on this wicket. If Angelo Matthews can get it to bounce and hit my gloves, I can wait to see Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander on this track," he said. "If we do the basics well, there's more than enough to work with."
Despite the assistance of the pitch, de Villiers said South Africa will be wary of players like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene who "can score double-hundreds". And Atapattu is looking forward to those very men to step up after a year of disappointments in the Test arena.
"There have been more than a couple batting failures in the last six months, but there are no excuses," he said. "These are the most experienced six batsmen that we have to represent Sri Lanka in Test match cricket, they have put runs on the board before and it's their responsibility to put runs on the board over and over again, for as long as they play for Sri Lanka."