The Proteas bowlers were put to the sword by Mahela Jayawardene on day one of the second Test, but still managed to claim five wickets.
It was a masterful innings from the veteran right-hander, who came to the wicket with his side on 16-2 in the fifth over, and batted out the day safely, to end on 140, with his side reaching 305-5 at the close of play.
The day was one the Proteas bowlers would probably rather forget. It is clear this pitch is not designed to give seam bowlers any assistance, while the spinners were too inconsistent to make an impact. South Africa would have been happy to claim the five wickets they did, but will want to make sure that total doesn’t get much past 400 on day two.
With Jayawardene anchoring the innings, the Proteas bowlers looked to attack the other side, with captain Angelo Mathews the first to fall in the evening session. He had reached his 50 just a few balls after tea, and lasted another 10 overs, but was eventually caught behind trying to cut a slider from JP Duminy.
That brought Kithuruwan Vithanage to the crease, but he never looked comfortable. Dale Steyn peppered him with the short stuff, one ball hitting him flush on the side of the helmet, and he was jittery against the spinners. He managed to stay at the crease for 38 balls without doing much, and eventually fell to a bouncer from Morne Morkel, edging it to AB de Villiers at third slip.
Niroshan Dickwella (12 not out) joined Jayawardene for the final part of the evening, and the pair survived until the close. The new ball was taken after 82 overs, Hashim Amla giving Steyn a short burst with the fresh cherry right at the end of the day, but neither he nor Vernon Philander could claim a late wicket.
Earlier, Mathews won the toss and had no hesitation in choosing to bat. While the Proteas backed the same XI that did duty in Galle last week, Sri Lanka made three changes.
The first was injury-enforced, with spinner Ajantha Mendis replacing seamer Shaminda Eranga, who has not recovered from the split webbing he suffered to his right hand in the first Test. There was also a debut cap handed to Dickwella, who replaced Dinesh Chandimal, while Lahiru Thirimanne was jettisoned in favour of Vithanage.
Steyn and Philander opened the bowling and bowled some good lines, at pace, but there was no movement in the air, leaving the pair to rely on seam movement off the pitch.
It was Steyn, predictably, who was the fiercest, getting balls to bounce and fizz. His first wicket was that of Upul Tharanga, who looked to weave out of the way of a short one, but he misjudged the length, and ended up gloving the ball through to Quinton de Kock. The keeper took a simple catch behind the stumps and Tharanga was gone for 11, with Sri Lanka on 16-1.
Just two minutes later they were two down, after Kumar Sangakkara attempted to hook a Steyn bouncer from outside off. He only managed to top edge it, and Imran Tahir completed a simple catch on the leg side. It was just the fifth first-ball duck in Sangakkara’s career.
Kaushal Silva should have been the next to go, as he edged a clear chance to Alviro Petersen at second slip off the bowling of Philander. However, Petersen seemed to panic, and dropped it.
Following that, it was one way traffic for Sri Lanka. Jayawardene joined Silva at the crease at the fall of Sangakkara, and the pair took advantage of the easy batting conditions to compile a partnership worth 99 runs. Jayawardene reached his half-century off just 58 balls, and it looked like the pair would last until lunch.
However, Duminy had Silva caught behind, driving at a wide one, just a few minutes before the break, and so Sri Lanka ended the session three down, with 115 on the board.
The afternoon session was one of hard toil for the Proteas bowlers, who went wicketless during the two-hour period. The dry, dusty pitch gave the seamers nothing, and the spinners continued to bowl too many loose balls, allowing Sri Lanka to play their way comfortably to 212-3 at tea.
As was the case in the first Test, Tahir was targeted, in this case by the pair of Jayawardene and Mathews, going at 5 to the over during his 12 overs today. While they weren’t scoring as fast as Silva and Jayawardene had in the morning, the total kept ticking over steadily, with Mathews on 48, and Jayawardene reaching his 34th Test ton going into the break.