Dimuth Karunaratne survived a ruthless Proteas bowling attack as his unbeaten 158 helped Sri Lanka post 287 in their first innings of the first Test in Galle.
For the second time in four years, the majestic city of Galle hosted the first Test between the Proteas and Sri Lanka. The last clash in 2014 ended in a dominant 153-run victory for the Proteas and it was a one-sided affair once again on day one on Thursday.
A typical dry pitch was prepared by the groundsmen, prompting the new Sri Lanka skipper, Suranga Lakmal, to bat first, a decision that Faf du Plessis would have made if had he won the toss.
The spinner-friendly Galle wicket could not withhold a lethal pace performance, with all three seamers taking wickets.
This was down to great rotation from Du Plessis. Vernon Philander (1-28), Dale Steyn (1-54), Kagiso Rabada (4-50) and Tabraiz Shamsi (3-91) took wickets, while Keshav Maharaj played his part by holding an end.
Rabada and Shamsi got the Proteas’ first wickets before lunch, taking one apiece as Sri Lanka posted 93-2 by lunch.
After the break, Rabada continued his onslaught. He manufactured pace and bounce on a dry pitch and pinned Sri Lanka back to 119-5. He found Angelo Mathews’ edge with a perfect out-swinger, followed by a shoulder-high delivery into Roshen Silva, who had fended off a rising delivery straight into the hands of Aiden Markram at short-leg.
Despite Rabada’s ruthlessness, Karunaratne continued to bat superbly. He fought hard to reach an unbeaten 80 by tea but struggled to find a worthy batting partner.
Shamsi brought an end to the Sri Lankans’ momentum by breaking the promising 42-run partnership between Karunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella (18), as Sri Lanka headed into tea six down with their score on 161.
The Proteas tightened their grip further into the afternoon. Philander dismissed Dilruwan Perera after tea for one and followed it up with a sharp throw to Quinton de Kock, who removed Rangana Herath’s bails in a flash in what was an unnecessary run-out.
Karunaratne, however, powered his side past the 200-run mark, marking his 50th Test match by scoring his eighth Test ton.
Despite his heroics with the bat, the 30-year-old could not prevent the show of mediocrity displayed by his teammates at the other end of the pitch.
Rabada was back in the wickets column again in his 12th over, banging in a short delivery targetted at Lakmal’s ribs. The batsman took his eye off the ball which found his bat and looped comfortably into De Kock’s gloves.
Last man Lakshan Sandakan joined Karunaratne at the wicket, and the pair enjoyed an invaluable 63-run stand, Sri Lanka’s highest 10th-wicket Test partnership against South Africa.
Shamsi wrapped things up with a floated googly to Sandakan who moved out to hit it, missed and was stumped by De Kock.
Rangana Herath picked up Markram’s wicket for a duck before stumps were drawn to signal the end of a good day of Test cricket. Despite Sri Lanka’s late surge with the bat and the early loss of Markram, the Proteas should be bullish that they can cash in on a comfortable batting wicket.
Sri Lanka (first innings) 287 – Dimuth Karunaratne (157*), Kagiso Rabada 4-50, Tabraiz Shamsi 3-91.
South Africa (first innings) 4-1 – Dean Elgar (4*), Rangana Herath (1-1)
Photo: Isuru Sameera Peiris/AFP/Gallo Images