Dean Elgar welcomed a career-best score and and Quinton de Kock a complementary milestone, as South Africa climbed to a formidable 297 for six on day one of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands in Cape Town on Monday.
Elgar’s superb 129 surpassed the 127 scored against the Australians in Perth late last year, while De Kock surpassed 1 000 Test runs – the joint fifth-fastest South African to reach the landmark – in front of an appreciative, sellout crowd.
Visiting captain Angelo Mathews’ decision to bowl first after winning the toss under overcast skies brought early reward, but increasingly sunnier conditions – and Elgar and De Kock’s dominance – eventually gave the hosts the ascendancy. Sri Lanka’s seam attack, too, didn’t have the stamina nor penetration to genuinely take advantage of a rather green pitch.
Stephen Cook perished for a duck to the fourth ball of the day, feathering an edge to stand-in wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis, who deputised for the ill Dinesh Chandimal. While Cook was unable to build on the century gathered in the series opener at St George’s Park, seamer Suranga Lakmal – hot on the heels of his Port Elizabeth five-for – relished the key dismissal.
Elgar and Hashim Amla all but nullified the early dismissal, sharing a fine 66-run alliance for the second wicket, before the latter was bowled for 29 by Lahiru Kumara’s venomous nip off the seam into the right-hander. Now is not the time to raise absolute concern over Amla’s shaky form, but a lack of a half-century in nine innings has more eyebrows raised with each failure.
JP Duminy’s departure for zero followed five balls later, as some sharp bounce found the left-hander’s attempted leg glance wanting, with another catch to Mendis the result. That left South Africa 69 for three at lunch – and in need of solidity through the second session.
Elgar and Faf du Plessis duly delivered, accumulating 76 runs during a near wicketless stanza. Spinner Rangana Herath, however, struck three overs before tea to remove Du Plessis. The Proteas captain, who was dropped by mid-off fielder Upul Tharanga on 31, left for 38 after edging some sharp turn to Mathews at first slip. Du Plessis will be the first to admonish himself for a relatively reckless stroke at an entirely crucial juncture.
Temba Bavuma didn’t last long, irresponsibly holing out to Tharanga at deep backward square-leg off Kumara. If Amla’s 29 didn’t fuel doubters, Bavuma’s 10 surely will, particularly with the uncapped Theunis de Bruyn waiting patiently in the wings.
The diminutive right-hander’s fall brought De Kock to the crease. The talented left-hander successfully saw off some shaky opening throes, including a handful of edges past Mendis and the slip cordon. Characteristically, he gradually flourished and climbed to 68 not out. He survived two ill-conceived lbw reviews.
Elgar, meanwhile, reaped his sixth Test century. True to form, a trademark punch down the ground for four welcomed the feat Mathews and a standing ovation from the Newlands throng. Lakmal eventually ended the impressive innings and their 103-run partnership with some tidy swing away from the left-hander. Mendis was, again, at hand for the catch.
Come day two, as was the pursuit after day one in Port Elizabeth, Lakmal and company will target the early dismissal of De Kock, aspirant all-rounder Kyle Abbott and the tail-enders before looking to their batsman for an appropriate response. The Proteas, though, will foresee a score of 400-plus – and perhaps the opportunity to bat just once.
Jonhenry Wilson, at Newlands