Keshav Maharaj took eight wickets to limit Sri Lanka to 277-9 on day one of the second Test in Colombo.
The day progressed better than anticipated for the Proteas. Despite fielding a heavily criticised lineup – having left out their second spinner Tabraiz Shamsi – the Proteas found a way to fight back after a steady start from Sri Lanka.
The first session was dominated by the home side, who reached 93-0 after a dominant opening stand between Danushka Gunathilaka and Dimuth Karunaratne.
After the break, the duo managed to score 116 off 208 balls – Sri Lanka’s first century opening partnership since October 2016, and the first at home since 2010. They did so by both reaching their half-centuries and they looked intent on piling the pressure on Faf du Plessis’ bowlers.
Keshav Maharaj spoiled the Sri Lankan party by taking three wickets after lunch, which included both openers and reduced Sri Lanka to 168-3.
The pick of Maharaj’s wickets was Gunathilaka, the second wicket to fall, after scoring 57. He lured the left-hander into a slog-sweep which he skied, allowing a diving Kagiso Rabada to take a stunning catch. Rabada had sprinted in from deep square leg and took a stunning, two-handed catch.
Maharaj’s impact started with the dismissal of Karunaratne for 53 and he rounded off the session by removing Kusal Mendis for 21 before tea.
The final session started with the teams evenly poised, but just three balls into the final session Angelo Mathews failed to draw inspiration from becoming the ninth Sri Lankan to reach 5 000 Test runs, and he became Maharaj’s fourth victim.
Dhananjaya de Silva started to settle himself and took Sri Lanka beyond the 200-run mark, at which point it seemed as if Du Plessis was missing the presence of Shamsi, as he turned to Dean Elgar to give Maharaj a rest after providing his skipper with 25 overs of quality spin bowling.
De Silva went on to reach his third half-century to keep his side in control, before Rabada hit back with a vital strike to bowl Roshen Silva for 22.
Maharaj was brought back into the attack and he struck four balls into his 26th over to bring up his fifth five-wicket haul. Niroshan Dickwella’s sweep failed him as Maharaj spun one into the left-hander’s glove, the ball lobbing up to Du Plessis at first slip. The bowler made it six with the dismissal of De Sliva, the 26-year-old walking back to the pavilion after a successful lbw review showed the batsman to be well and truly trapped in front of his stumps.
Maharaj then did the same to Dilruwan Perera, whose attempted sweep went straight to Lungi Ngidi at backward square leg. Suranga Lakmal followed just four balls later, the Sri Lanka skipper driving straight to Aiden Markram, who took a stunning one-handed catch diving to his left.
Maharaj’s figures of 8-116 are the best figures by a South African spinner in Asia, and a ninth wicket tomorrow will leave him with the second-best bowling figures ever in South African Test history.
Sri Lanka (first innings) 277-9 – Dhananjaya de Silva 60, Danushka Gunathilaka 57, Dimuth Karunaratne 53, Keshav Maharaj 8-116.
Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images