Faf du Plessis fell for 199 to miss out on a first career test double-century but that was the only disappointment for South Africa as it took complete control of the first test Monday against a Sri Lanka team battered by injuries.
Du Plessis' career-best score sent South Africa to 621 all out at SuperSport Park on Day 3 and a 225-run first-innings lead. Sri Lanka's tough position was exacerbated by the fact that it has had five players injured in the opening three days of the test, with three of them ruled out for the rest of the game.
Du Plessis' big hundred, and half-centuries from four other South African batsmen, wiped out Sri Lanka's early advantage. The tourists made 396 in their first innings — their best total in South Africa — and were feeling good about their chances after the first day-and-a-half in Centurion.
Those positive Sri Lankan vibes disappeared by the end of Day 3.
The South Africans also made inroads in the field in the 12 overs they bowled before stumps as Lungi Ngidi struck twice in the space of two overs late in the day. Sri Lanka was 65-2 in its second innings and still 160 behind when Dinesh Chandimal (21 not out) limped off at stumps alongside Kusal Perera (33 not out).
Chandimal reached the edge of the field before being picked up by a medic on a golf buggy and carried away, the latest Sri Lankan worry in what might be the worst run of injuries for a team in a test.
“The way it (the injuries) went today, I've never seen that,” Sri Lanka batting coach Grant Flower said.
Allrounder Dhananjaya de Silva and fast bowlers Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara were definitely ruled out for the rest of the game, Flower said, while legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga and Chandimal would be assessed overnight. De Silva was injured while batting on the first day, Rajitha went off after bowling just 13 deliveries on the second day, and the other three all got injured on Monday.
Flower said it's probable that Sri Lanka's lack of any four-day cricket in the buildup to this two-test tour because of the coronavirus pandemic meant the players were out of condition. It was unclear how many Sri Lankans might be able to make it out on the field to bat on the fourth day. Flower said all that was left now was for the fit players to show some grit.
"You can’t be chicken. You’ve got to go out there and fight," he said.
Du Plessis made the most of the depleted Sri Lankan bowling attack for his career-best score, cracking 24 fours. Freed from the pressure of being captain — it was du Plessis' first test since stepping down as skipper — he made his first test hundred in two years and the 10th of his career.
He wasn't the only one to cash in. Dean Elgar made 95 and Aiden Markram 68 in their 141-run opening stand on Sunday. Temba Bavuma hit 71 in a 179-run stand with du Plessis, and then tailender Keshav Maharaj added to the pain for the Sri Lankans with his best test score of 73.
It seemed du Plessis' double-century would top off the day for the South Africans but, needing one run for his 200, he tried to hit over the top and lobbed a catch to Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne at mid-on.