DURBAN: Kusal Perera struck a gritty half-century to keep Sri Lanka in the hunt for victory and steer his side to 166 for five at lunch on day four of the first test against South Africa at Kingsmead on Saturday.
The tourists still require 138 runs to claim an unlikely victory, but as long as Perera remains at the crease, they will feel they are in the game against a home attack missing seamer Vernon Philander with a hamstring injury.
Perera (56 not out) will resume after the interval with Dhananjaya de Silva (25 not out) after the pair put on 56 for the sixth wicket.
With the pitch showing variable bounce and good turn for spinner Keshav Maharaj, the advantage still sits with South Africa, but the afternoon session looks to be crucial in deciding the outcome of the match.
Resuming on their overnight score of 83 for three, Perera and Oshada Fernando (37) had put on 58 for the fourth wicket before the latter was caught by home captain Faf du Plessis at second slip off the bowling of Dale Steyn (2-42), a ball that moved off the seam but was wide enough to leave alone.
After a solid start to the morning, Sri Lanka lost a second wicket in the same over when Steyn superbly caught the scoreless Niroshan Dickwella off his own bowling, thrusting out a right hand to grab the ball in his follow through.
With the score on 118 for five, South Africa might have expected to run through the rest of the batting line-up, but Perera and De Silva showed admirable patience and application to steer their side through to lunch without further loss of wickets.
The second and final test of the series will be played in Port Elizabeth from Feb. 21-25.