Durban – South Africa, heavily favoured to waltz to victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Durban, are off to a shaky start.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bowl on the opening morning and it proved to be exactly the right decision as the Proteas batsmen limped through their first innings.
SCOREBOARD: SA v SL – 1st Test
At stumps on day one after play had been stopped due to bad light, the Proteas had been dismissed for 235 in their first innings while Sri Lanka were 49/1 in their reply, 186 behind.
Dale Steyn (1/10) got the only breakthrough for the Proteas when Sri Lankan opener Lahiru Thirimanne (0) played at a wide ball unnecessarily to find the edge.
The day belonged to Sri Lankan left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando, who claimed career-best figures of 4/62 as South Africa tried and failed numerous times to take control of the game.
If it was not for Quinton de Kock’s fearless 80 off 94 (8×4, 1×6), South Africa would have been in serious trouble.
The Proteas wicketkeeper, elevated to No 6 in the batting order, was eventually the last man out as he looked to take the attack to the visitors with no support left from the other end.
There was also resistance in the form of Temba Bavuma (47) and Faf du Plessis (35), but the Proteas were in trouble from the very beginning as they fell to 17/3 with Dean Elgar (0), Hashim Amla (3) and Aiden Markram (11) all falling in quick succession.
There is plenty in this Kingsmead wicket for the seamers and that will encourage South Africa given they have gone in with a bowling-heavy attack that includes all Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier.
It may have been a good toss to win, but the Sri Lankans still had to put the ball in the right areas and they showed largely impressive control and accuracy throughout the day despite the Proteas going at a run rate of nearly 4-per over.
Elgar (0) was first to go when he feathered a Fernando delivery that had just nipped away slightly through to Niroshan Dickwella behind the stumps.
There was then a moment of controversy when Amla on 0* at the time, survived a massive shout for LBW off Fernando.
The bowler seemed convinced as he went up for the appeal only for umpire Aleem Dar to rule ‘not out’ despite what looked a very good shout to the naked eye.
Dimuth Karunaratne, captaining his country for the first time, then took his time consulting his team-mates before signalling to send the decision upstairs for the review.
Bizarrely, that request was overlooked by Dar before it was incorrectly ruled that the maximum time of 15 seconds allowed to request a review had passed.
Replays revealed that Amla had, in fact, been trapped plumb LBW but with the review not triggered, he survived.
It didn’t make the world of difference.
Amla was out caught in the slips off the bowling of Lakmal without offering a shot as South Africa were reduced to 9/2.
Aiden Markram (11) was next to fall as he became the impressive Fernando’s second victim with an absolute cracker of a delivery.
Markram had looked to get forward, but Fernando landed the ball perfectly and moved it back in to the right-hander beat the inside edge and leave the hosts 17/3.
That brought Bavuma and skipper Du Plessis together, and the pair began fighting hard for every run with a series of quick singles scattered in between some resolute defence that saw them card a 72-run stand.
Du Plessis fell in the final over before lunch when a Sri Lankan review saw him given out for edging a Kasun Rajitha delivery down the leg side.
Bavuma’s resistance ended in the most unfortunate fashion. He had batted with superb application in trying conditions and had clawed his way to 47, but he was run out after backing up at the non-striker’s end.
De Kock had driven Fernando straight down the ground, but the bowler managed to get the slightest of touches with his foot before the ball deflected onto the stumps and replays revealed that Bavuma was short of his ground.
Sri Lanka will resume on the second morning with Karunaratne (28*) and debutant Oshada Fernando (17*) at the wicket.