Lunch Sri Lanka 93 for 0 (Gunathilaka 44*, Karunaratne 42*) v South Africa
Sri Lanka’s openers were closing in on their first century stand since October 2016, against a South Africa attack that could not make anything happen on a flat SSC track. Runs came easily for Danushka Gunathilaka and Dimuth Karunaratne, who were barely troubled by an attack of three seamers, a spinner and a part-timer, which will doubtless lead to questions over South Africa’s team selection.
On a dry surface, that will take turn as the match progresses, South Africa opted to leave out a second specialist spinner in favour of an extra batsman and changed the personnel in their three-pronged seam attack. Tabraiz Shamsi, who made an emergency round trip back home earlier this week following the death of his father, was left out while Lungi Ngidi replaced Vernon Philander. The early indications are that South Africa may have got their composition wrong, with none of their bowlers causing any real problems.
Dale Steyn’s wait to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker continued on a wicket-less morning for South Africa. Steyn only needs one wicket and was given first opportunity to take it, with the new ball. But he did not prove dangerous at all.
Gunathilaka, who got starts in Galle but was unable to push on, tucked into the pitched-up balls at SSC, prompting Kagiso Rabada to change his length. But Rabada’s first proper short ball offered Dimuth Karunaratne his first runs off the pull shot. Rabada followed up with a bumper, that cost his side five wides. When Rabada went back to bowling full, Karunaratne responded with a drive through midwicket.
Ngidi replaced Steyn after three overs and presented more of a threat than the new-ball pair. He had an lbw appeal against Karunaratne, who played around his front pad and fell over the flick, but Umpire Nigel Llong turned Ngidi down. Ball-tracking showed umpire’s call on leg stump. With his next ball, Ngidi drew Karunaratne forward with a delivery that straightened to beat the outside edge.
As though buoyed by Ngidi’s opening over, Rabada tightened his lines and directed his short balls more menacingly. And then he sent down the yorker that 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 Gubathilaka. He induced a leading edge from Gunathilaka, that flew through backward point, had him going aerial to clear extra cover and then drew the outside edge, but it fell short of Temba Bavuma at point. Gunathilaka soon settled and went to his highest Test score, in his fifth match.
Steyn was later brought back from around the wicket, but Karunaratne had no problems with the punch through extra cover or the the flick to fine leg, off the pads.
South Africa’s sole spinner, Keshav Maharaj, was introduced in the 15th over, but could not make much happen in his seven overs. But it was when Aiden Markram was brought on in the 24th over, that it seemed South Africa were out of ideas as early as the first morning.