Sri Lanka’s openers put on their first century stand since October 2016 , their first at home since 2010, against a South African attack that will rue the exclusion of a second specialist spinner. Keshav Maharaj took all three wickets that fell in the middle session, with none of the three quicks able to make any inroads.
That means Dale Steyn’s wait to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker continues. Steyn bowled 10 overs but caused few problems, fewer than Kagiso Rabada. And Lungi Ngidi, who was selected ahead of Vernon Philander for this Test. South Africa left Tabraiz Shamsi out of the XI, in favour of another batsman but the early signs are that they could have used another slow bowler.
Danushka Gunathilaka and Dimuth Karunaratne enjoyed the early exchanges and picked runs off full deliveries first up. Rabada tried the short ball in response but Karunaratne swivelled through a pull to force the young spearhead to tighten his lines instead. Ngidi was more threatening and had an lbw appeal against Karunaratne, besides almost finding his outside edge. But it was Gunathilaka that South Africa thought they may get first.
A Rabada yorker found Gunathilaka’s front boot and South Africa reviewed. Replays showed the ball kissed the toe end of the bat and the not-out decision was upheld. Ngidi kept the pressure on on Gunathilaka when in a single over, he induced a leading edge, had Gunathilaka going aerial to clear extra cover and then drew an outside edge that fell short of Temba Bavuma at point. Gunathilaka soon settled and went on to register his first Test half-century, off 93 balls, in his fifth match.
Karunaratne, the top-scorer by some distance in Galle, beat Gunathilaka to the landmark. His fifty came up the ball earlier with a punch to point, off the 96th ball he faced.
At that stage, Maharaj had bowled nine overs, economically, but without success. He bowled a 10th, wicketless, before things started to happen. Maharaj pushed one down leg side and Karunaratne’s feeble flick was taken down leg side by Quinton de Kock. In his next over, Maharaj dangled a delivery outside off, Gunathilaka went for the slog sweep and top-edged to deep square leg, where Rabada took an impressive diving catch.
Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva settled quickly and their partnership grew to 36, with Kusal the more enterprising of the pair. He enjoyed taking boundaries off Maharaj, and had some luck. He was beaten by Rabada, then almost played on and eventually got a thick edge through the vacant gully area off the young quick. But the fun only lasted until he skied Maharaj into the midwicket area for Rabada to take a much simpler catch.
Sri Lanka lost 3 for 37 and may have had a mid-innings wobble but de Silva and Angelo Mathews were watchful as tea approached. Mathews became the ninth Sri Lankan to reach 5,000 runs in the over before the break but will want to add to that in this innings to put Sri Lanka in control at the close.
The Report by Firdose Moonda | ESPNCricInfo