EVERY Test match has its defining moments and one of them certainly played itself out on the fourth afternoon of the first Sunfoil Test match at St. George’s Park on Thursday between two of the emerging stars of world cricket.
Both Kusal Mendis and Kagiso Rabada are 21 years old, both are playing in their 12th Test match and both have already made a significant impact on the game in little more than a year.
Mendis has already made a big century against Australia and two half-centuries away from home against difficult opponents in England and South Africa. Rabada is busy hunting down his 50th Test match wicket (he had 47 at the close of play last night) and has been chosen in their Test team of 2016 by such luminaries as Michael Vaughan and Glenn McGrath.
As difficult as the world record task the Sri Lankans have been set of 488 for victory, Mendis and his captain, Angelo Mathews, certainly made it look possible during a partnership of 75 in 18 overs. Mendis, in particular, looked in superb form even if he was hitting too many balls in the air – no doubt the exuberance of youth – and his driving off both front and back foot was out of the top drawer.
It needed Faf du Plessis, who generally has had a good outing in his debut as permanent Test captain, to come up with something special to break the partnership and he found the solution in getting Rabada to bowl short around the wicket.
Mendis tried to ramp him over the slips but only succeeded in guiding the ball into Quinton de Kock’s eager gloves. The open disappointment as he trudged away from the square was obvious for all to see. Mathews had tried to calm him down the previous over when he lofted Keshav Maharaj dangerously close to Rabada at deep mid-on.
He will undoubtedly be a quick learner as all top players always are.
It remains to be seen what happens on the final day but the dismissal of Mendis was clearly a pivotal moment. There was nearly a second when his replacement at the crease, Dinesh Chandimal, was dropped at deep mid-off by Stephen Cook of Maharaj. Had it been taken Sri Lanka would have been five down with more than 280 still needed and the second new ball not that far around the corner.
It was undoubtedly just the position that Du Plessis wanted.
It did not matter too much in the end as Maharaj fortunately had the last laugh when Chandimal holed out to Rabada for only another five runs.
It meant that the second new ball became available with Sri Lanka five down and a distant 261 still needed for victory and the last two specialist batsmen at the crease.
By the close Sri Lanka still needed 248 and, although they have put up a courageous fight, the advantage is very much with South Africa. Mathews will have to produce a captain’s spectacular to make it otherwise.
Maharaj bowled a lot better than his figures suggest and could have done with better support in the field at times. He bowls with a lot of drift which stops batsmen from lining him up and he did create openings that were not turned into chances.
Earlier in the day Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock had taken their sixth wicket partnership to 129 – a new sixth wicket record against Sri Lanka, beating the 124 of Lance Klusener and Mark Boucher at Galle in 2000.
It was a good day for Du Plessis who made a good declaration and generally handled his attack pretty well.