Debutant spinner Lasith Embuldeniya took five wickets as Sri Lanka produced a strong fightback with the ball to set up a victory chase on day three of the first test against South Africa at Kingsmead on Friday.
The impressive Embuldeniya claimed 5-66 and sparked a South Africa collapse as the hosts were bowled out for 259 in their second innings, leaving Sri Lanka to chase 304 for what had seemed an unlikely victory.
Openers Dimuth Karunaratne (11 not out) and Lahiru Thirimanne (17 not out) survived a testing spell before tea to see their side to 28 without loss at the interval under increasingly gloomy skies.
The tourists have endured a torrid time with the bat of late and how they handle South Africas fierce pace attack on a deteriorating wicket in the final session of the day could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the match.
Sri Lanka have not posted over 300 in any of their last 12 test innings, while the record fourth innings total to win a game in Durban is 336 by Australia in 1950.
Sri Lanka skittled out South Africas lower order 40 minutes before tea, taking the final five wickets for the addition of only eight runs.
The home side was looking comfortable on 251 for five but lost Vernon Philander (18) when he was bowled by a ball that kept low from the Embuldeniya.
Home captain Faf du Plessis (90) had looked largely in control but was out when he left a straight ball from Vishwa Fernando (4-71) that trapped him leg before wicket, with the seamer going on to collect two more wickets for a total of eight in the match.
It was a swift end to South Africa’s second innings, but a sign of the variable bounce and generous turn on offer to the bowlers that will make Sri Lankas chase that much harder.
The second and final test of the series will be played in Port Elizabeth from Feb. 21-25.
South Africa started their season with a home 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan to move up to number two in the International Cricket Council’s test rankings.
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)