Tea Sri Lanka 161 for 6 (Karunaratne 80*) v South Africa
South Africa burrowed their way through Sri Lanka’s middle-order with a burst of three wickets for four runs in the middle session, even as Dimuth Karunaratne stood firm on a first-day pitch that is already taking substantial turn. The Sri Lankan opener was the only one in his line-up to move past 26, against a South African attack relying equally on their quicks and spinners.
Kagiso Rabada’s two wickets in three balls put Sri Lanka in the precarious position of 119 for 5, while the other major threat was left-arm wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who is playing in his first red-ball Test. Shamsi two strikes – late in both the first and second sessions – tilted the balance of both periods of play South Africa’s way, with the other wicket falling to pace spearhead Dale Steyn.
Steyn took one step close to overtaking Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker when he claimed his first wicket of the series. Kusal Mendis, who had settled in, chipped a full ball in the air to gift Rabada a catch at mid-on. Steyn bowled one more over after that and then left the field, pointing to his hamstring. He was only off briefly and returned, but did not bowl again in the session.
Though Steyn also left the field for a short while in the morning session, he has contributed 10 overs to the cause, six more than Vernon Philander, who did not bowl after a four-over opening spell. Philander conceded at more than five runs an over, was unsuccessful in going around the wicket to the left-handers and has not been used since.
Instead, Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj have done the work Philander was being primed for – essentially, the donkey work – but both have been able to attack as well. Maharaj found the first signs of big turn and bounce when a ball pitched on middle stump and was collected by Quinton de Kock over his right shoulder, but Shamsi got the first wicket with spin when he bowled Dhananjaya de Silva through the gate.
That wicket gave South Africa a boost after an energetic morning session from Sri Lanka, in which they achieved their best opening stand in 17 innings, thanks to Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka. Karunaratne was the risk-taker and has provided the only six of the innings so far, albeit almost by accident. He went after a Steyn short-ball and the hook shot sailed over the gap between long-leg and deep-backward-square. Karunaratne did it again in the middle session, gloving the ball past an outstretched de Kock.
At that stage, Sri Lanka had only lost Gunathilaka, caught behind off Rabada, and Karunaratne and de Silva were in a good position to push on. Karunaratne had brought up the team 100 with a steer to backward point, and finally mastered his shot off Steyn, when he got on top of the bounce and pulled through mid-wicket. But then Mendis misjudged his intended push off Steyn and Sri Lanka were vulnerable.
Sensing that, and hastened by Steyn leaving the field, Faf du Plessis brought Rabada on and his impact was immediate. Rabada lured Angelo Mathews forward with the first ball of his second spell and found the edge. He then surprised Roshen Silva with a short ball that he could only fend to Aiden Markram at short leg. Sri Lanka teetered, and Rabada continued to threaten. In his next over, Rabada had Niroshan Dickwella given out lbw but Dickwella reviewed and the ball was found to be pitching outside leg. With the next ball, Rabada hit Dickwella on the helmet.
The over after that, Shamsi reviewed what he thought was a catch off Dickwella, but the ball had hit the ground on its way through to de Kock. Shamsi’s lengths remained consistent throughout the session, proving his ability not to get carried away by the strength of his variations, and he was rewarded when Dickwella half-pushed forward and edged to first slip right when the rains came down and forced an early tea.
Karunaratne watched the wickets tumble at the other end, and has a big job to do when it dries up.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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