After Vernon Philander’s five-wicket haul provided the hosts with a vital lead of 81 runs, Cook and Elgar left an imprint on proceedings. The duo’s no-frills determined approach with the bat deflated the opposition ranks.
Once the openers gauged the conditions on view, they also unfurled a volley of shots to up the ante. Cook, in particular, crunched a few eye-catching flicks and cuts. Suranga Lakmal, the best bowler on show for the visitors, eventually ended the first wicket stand by dislodging Elgar. However, by then, the tourists had already surged to a lead of 197 runs.
Cook, though, continued to blend style with substance and compiled a well-constructed hundred. Jimmy Cook, the former South African opener and Stephen’s father, was in attendance in the crowd. On expected lines, Jimmy gave a standing ovation when his son reached the milestone with a flick off Dushmantha Chameera. Cook had his share of plays and misses at the start of the innings and was also dropped on 62 by Dhananjaya de Silva, with Lakmal being the unlucky bowler.
Amla, who came out to bat at the fall of Elgar’s wicket, bristled with positive intent to compose a fluent hand. However, just when it felt as if Amla would end his barren run of form, Nuwan Pradeep dismissed him leg-before off the final ball of the second session. Incidentally, it turned out to be the 10,000th LBW dismissal in Test cricket history.
After the Tea break, Chameera dislodged the centurion Cook. Dhananjaya followed it by sending JP Duminy and Bavuma back to the pavilion. Curiously, Bavuma walked back to the pavilion without waiting for the umpire’s decision. In fact, replays didn’t show any evidence of Bavuma having eked out an edge to the forward short leg fielder. Faf Du Plessis (41 not out) and Quinton de Kock (42 not out) then stitched a quickfire unbroken stand of 74 in 92 balls for the sixth wicket to propel South Africa to a lead of over 400.
At the start of the day, Philander picked up his 11th five-fer in Test cricket to clean up Sri Lanka for just 205 and solidify South Africa’s strong position. Sri Lanka would have hoped for Dhananjaya to stitch useful stands with the lower-order batsmen. However, Philander put paid to such hopes by removing him off the first ball of the day. The veteran seamer also took the scalp of Lakmal, while Kyle Abbott provided the finishing touches to a fine all-round show by removing the last man Chameera.
During the course of the first two sessions, play was halted a couple of times due to rain. Hence, Tea was postponed to 16:00 local time with the final session getting extended to 18:30.
South Africa hold a vice-like grip on proceedings. The hosts might look to add another 50-60 runs on Day 4 and set Sri Lanka a daunting target. The visitors are so far behind the eight-ball that they need a monumental effort from here to essay a comeback.
Brief Scores: South Africa 286 & 351/5 (Stephen Cook 117, Dean Elgar 52; Dhananjaya de Silva 2-74) lead Sri Lanka 205 (Dhananjaya de Silva 43, Angelo Mathews 39; Vernon Philander 5-45 Kyle Abbott 3-43) by 432 runs.