Series so far: Karunaratne 330 Proteas 323

Dimuth Karunaratne (Getty)
Dimuth Karunaratne (Getty)

Cape Town – One man in the opposition ranks, only twice dismissed in four innings, currently sports more Test runs than one country has managed in entirety across three completed team knocks in the nearly-completed series.

That stark statistic sums up how sorry South Africa have been thus far in the two-game series against Sri Lankan foes moving very speedily toward a 2-0 sweep.

Left-handed opener Dimuth Karunaratne, at stumps on day two of the second Test in Colombo, was 59 not out in his team’s second-innings total of 151 for three.

That meant an already monstrous overall lead of 365 with seven wickets in hand, a situation largely brought about by yet another wafer-thin showing from the Proteas in their first knock: 124 all out in 34.5 overs.

The tourists, remember, produced a “grand” total of 199 runs in the first-Test humiliation in Galle, so they have lost 30 wickets in the series thus far for 323 runs – surely as spineless and bankrupt as it has got for them as a batting unit since their return from isolation in 1992.

Karunaratne, by contrast, is feasting royally on the ludicrously-structured, seam-heavy SA attack, now having advanced to 330 runs alone and not done yet: his sequence of scores is now 158 not out and 60 (Galle) and 53 and 59 not out (Colombo).

It seems only a matter of time before the Proteas are put out of their misery in the series: the best ever fourth-innings total at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground is 397, by New Zealand in 2009, and even that wasn’t enough to stave off a 96-run defeat; Faf du Plessis and company are almost certain to be set a target well bigger than that.

The Proteas are truly at sixes and sevens at the crease in these conditions, almost everybody in their specialist batting arsenal under varying levels of harsh scrutiny for delivery in recent times, and the situation hardly helped by the presence of so few competent or at least resilient stroke-players in their fluffy tail.

Just as topical, though, is South Africa’s extraordinary selection naivety in this match.

I recommended a stay of major ridicule on that subject after the first day’s play, considering that Sri Lanka had been curtailed to 277 for nine at the close, which based on healthy recent history by sides batting first at the ground represented a decent enough showing by the side in the field.

But on Saturday, things went pear-shaped very quickly in all senses, including the embarrassment of another concerted, highly damaging and demoralising Sri Lankan tail-wag.

The last wicket added a further 61 runs, before left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj finally added a stellar ninth wicket to his haul (9/129 from 41.1 overs).

It naturally left the burning question of “what if” the Proteas had had another fully-fledged spinning option to call on.

The sheer folly of their team balance was then only underlined when Sri Lanka didn’t even employ the pace services of their captain, Suranga Lakmal, in the short-lived SA innings: their well-stocked slow trio did the destruction job consummately.

Poor Maharaj: the fact that the Proteas only occupied the crease for well less than three hours meant the footsore warrior was quickly back in action all over again as spearhead of their lopsided bowling unit.

Just as understandably, Sri Lanka made a point of going after him as quickly as possible to rub salt into their opponents’ wounds from a blunder-level point of view.

He was travelling at above five runs to the over by Saturday’s close, despite adding a further two scalps to his name in the match, and almost needless to say the seam contribution to the cause on the slow and increasingly turning, dusting track was negligible.

Perhaps as the unwanted cherry on top, in the last over of the day part-timer Dean Elgar turned one almost square to Angelo Mathews, really only indicating the extent of the challenge facing the mentally fragile Proteas when they get around to batting again.

These are gruesome times for them …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing 

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