The South African pace-spin duo of Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi dented Sri Lanka with regular strikes as the home side were reduced to 161 for 6 at Tea on Day 1 of the first Test in Galle.
Dimuth Karunaratne (80*), however, continued to bat with a sense of purpose and composure and remained unbeaten on 80 before rain forced umpires to take early tea.
The hosts resumed the second session with the score reading a healthy 93 for 2. Just when Mendis and Karunaratne looked set to take the home team to a position of strength, the former was dislodged by Dale Steyn. It was a soft dismissal as he chipped one straight to the fielder positioned at mid-on. The wicket took Steyn to 420 scalps, who now needs just one more to equal Shaun Pollock’s record for the most wickets by a South African in Tests.
Kagiso Rabada, his pace colleague, took over by running through the cream of Sri Lanka’s middle order. Angelo Mathews, who had returned home from the Windies tour due to a personal issue, edged one that straightened after pitching. On the other hand, Roshen Silva was dismissed by a well-directed bumper that was bowled at good height and angled in from outside the off-stump. There is an old school of thought on a track which assists spinners, it also brings pacers into play. Rabada capsulised the point with a fine spell.
Karunaratne, who was watching the collapse at the other end, strung together a vital stand of 42 with Niroshan Dickwella to help the visitors mount a mini recovery. Dickwella took his chances with the sweep and also got an LBW decision against him overturned before edging the impressive Shamsi behind the stumps. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka and Dickwella, play was stopped due to rain right after the ball bowled by Shamsi. Karunaratne, meanwhile, barring the occasional lapse in concentration against Shamsi’s stock delivery, looked in good form. For South Africa, Rabada used the hint of variable bounce on offer to good effect and bowled with a fair amount of aggression. Shamsi bowled a tempting line outside the offstump and was rewarded with wickets.
Earlier, after Sri Lanka had opted to bat, Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka (26) began on a good note. Gunathilaka gave a glimpse of his potential with a flick and punch off Vernon Philander in the seventh over. His batting partner, Karunaratne, hooked Steyn’s bouncer over deep-backward square leg for a six. It wasn’t a convincing shot but the opener showed his intent to take on the short ball.
Eventually, Faf du Plessis introduced his chief weapon, Rabada, who in turn made the initial incision. In his second over, he generated enough swing and movement off the seam to elicit the outside edge of Gunathilaka with Quinton de Kock pouching the catch. The spin duo of Maharaj and Shamsi joined forces with Rabada to trouble Karunaratne and the one drop batsman Dhananjaya de Silva. Maharaj, in particular, extracted appreciable turn and a shout for LBW against Karunaratne wasn’t answered in the affirmative. It was his spin partner, Shamsi, who landed the vital blow, by cleaning up de Silva with the chinaman variety.
On expected lines, the Galle track is already assisting spinners. The hosts would be looking to compile a score of around 250 to put the visitors under pressure.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 161/6 (Dimuth Karunaratne 80*; Kagiso Rabada 3-35) vs South Africa.