Keshav Maharaj’s three wickets after tea gave the Proteas hope as Sri Lanka ended day two of the first Test with a lead of 272 runs.
It was an excruciating day of Test cricket for the Proteas, who were outplayed in every department from the first session to the last.
The hosts’ 287 first-innings total on day one turned from sub-par to outstanding as the Proteas struggled past 100 runs and their performance on the second day in Galle was a confirmation of that.
Sri Lanka captain Suranga Lakmal stuck to his side’s strengths and allowed his spin trio to work their magic.
In the first session, spin was the order of the day with 36 overs divided among Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan, with Lakmal only bowling the last over of the session.
This approach worked to perfection as the Proteas’ top order exposed their frailties against spin and posted 86-6 by lunch.
There was a ray of hope when Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander strung together the second-highest partnership of the match, taking 29 overs to score 64 runs for the seventh wicket. This lifted the Proteas to 115 before both batsmen lost their scalps in quick succession.
The pair had used a defensive approach in an attempt to frustrate the spinners and draw out Sri Lanka’s single pace bowler, the captain Lakmal, who took the bait and brought himself into the attack.
Perera had the last laugh for the spinners, however, dismissing Philander for 18, before Lakmal cleaned up the remainder of the wickets on offer, starting with Du Plessis, who fell one short of his 50. Lakmal finished with figures of 3-21 as the Proteas were skittled out for a disastrous 126 (their lowest Test score ever in Sri Lanka), leaving them 161 runs behind.
Sri Lanka extended their lead to 186 as they headed into tea, with the objective to bury the Proteas in their second innings.
The Proteas needed to strike quickly in order to claw their way back into the contest, and their task was given a major boost by Maharaj, who picked up three wickets in quick succession.
The Proteas star spinner removed Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis, with the dismissal of De Silva being the pick of the bunch. Maharaj landed the ball on the perfect length, pitching it middle-and-leg, beating De Silva’s outside edge to knock into the off-stump and lift the Proteas’ spirits.
Dimuth Karunaratne continued his exceptional form of the first innings by scoring his 15th Test half-century. Becoming only the second Sri Lankan to score a Test century and half-century in the same match against South Africa at home, following Kumar Sangakarra’s 232 and 64 in their record 313-run victory in Colombo in 2004.
Karunaratne was dismissed by Kagiso Rabada for 60 off 80 balls, a massive wicket for the Proteas as they looked to limit Sri Lanka’s lead in the match. Sri Lanka ended the day on 111-4.
Sri Lanka (first innings) 287 – Dimuth Karunaratne (157*), Kagiso Rabada 4-50, Tabraiz Shamsi 3-91.
South Africa (first innings) 126 – Faf du Plessis (49), Dilruwan Perera (4-46), Suranga Lakmal (3-21), Rangana Herath (2-34)
Sri Lanka (second innings) 111-4 – Dimuth Karunaratne (60), Keshav Maharaj (3-37)
Photo: Lakruwan Wanniarachhci/AFP/Getty Images