Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj struck on the stroke of tea to reduce Sri Lanka to 56-2 in pursuit of the Protea’s first-innings offering of 392.
He had the joy of exacting sweet revenge on Kusal Mendis, who had earlier gone down on one knee to sweep the spinner for six over cow corner. It was an injudicious shot given that the Sri Lankans were rebuilding after losing Kaushal Silva for 11, with the score on 31 in difficult conditions. Mendis also had 11, leaving the solid opener Dimuth Karunaratne holding the fort on 24 off 73 balls.
The Sri Lankan openers struggled to get going against some tight bowling and gusty winds, and the only moment of excitement in those early stages came when Temba Bavuma almost pulled off another incredible run-out, similar to that which earned him fame in Perth. Karunaratne punched an Abbott delivery to the off side, and Bavuma was on it, hurling it while airborne to the non-striker’s end. Unlike Warner, though, Karunaratne made his ground with a desperate dive.
It was not until Kagiso Rabada was brought into the attack, in the 10th over, that the first boundary came. And then there were two: First, Karunaratne cut powerfully, and three balls later Kaushal Silva edged over the slips for a 12-run over. Never one to surrender, Rabada conceded just three from his next three overs and made the breakthrough when Silva played on, trying to defend a steeply rising ball.
The Sri Lankans have some long, hard sessions ahead if they are to match the Proteas’ 392, a total highlighted by Quinton de Kock’s third Test hundred.
He had resumed his innings on 68 among the Proteas 297-6 on Tuesday morning and signalled his intent with a sweetly driven four off the first ball of the day, launching an attack which would bring 95 runs for four wickets in 26 overs, ending the last ball before lunch.
That four brought up the 300 and De Kock was to add another three to bring up the third century of his 15-match career. It was ironic that, having played with such control, particularly the spinners with immaculately timed late cuts, his milestone should arrive with a completely botched shot off Lahiru Kumara, slapping an inside edge millimetres past his stumps to the unprotected fine-leg boundary.
The appreciation of an extremely fine innings was followed by the anguish of an edge behind, just four balls later, off a fairly innocuous delivery. But he had his coveted hundred, with 11 fours, enhancing his reputation as a batsman who should be batting higher up. While his 68 had taken 90 balls on day one, the extra 33 came off 34 balls.
Nine overs earlier, nightwatchman Kyle Abbott, who started the day on 16, survived just five balls before he feathered a catch to Dinesh Chandimal off left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. Vernon Philander seemed constrained by the difficult conditions until he was undone on 20, having faced 63 balls, by a loose drive at Kumara, giving the 19-year-old seamer a well-earned five-for. Maharaj positively raced to 32 off 35 (with three fours) while Kagiso Rabada was looking to dig in with eight off 17 before he became Kumara’s sixth victim off an inside edge.
The Sri Lankans had their moments on day one, cutting short some promising partnerships at crucial times, but they were never able to press home their advantage. Now they will have to show their mettle in the middle to match the resilience of the Proteas.