Dogged Karunaratne keeps South Africa at bay

Lunch Sri Lanka 93 for 2 (Karunaratne 37*, Kusal Mendis 19*) v South Africa

Sri Lanka enjoyed a productive first morning of the two-Test series against a South African attack that used the opening two hours to find their feet on a surface that is already showing signs of turn. Sprightly knocks from Danushka Gunathilaka and Dimuth Karunaratne left Sri Lanka seven runs short of 100 in the opening session, while South Africa were early witnesses to how difficult it may get for seamers on this tour.

Vernon Philander conceded at over five runs an over, and Dale Steyn made a quiet return to the XI, without the fire or fury he is known for. Instead, the spinners – and South Africa are playing two for the first time since their match against India in Delhi in Nagpur in November 2015 – are likely to have the biggest role to play.

Philander, whose record in Sri Lanka before this match was a modest two wickets at 76.00, thought he could change the narrative in the first over when Gunathilaka flicked at a delivery down the leg side. South Africa appealed but did not review, and replays showed a spike on Ultra Edge. Steyn may have had similar thoughts in his first over, when he almost found Karunaratne’s outside edge, but the ball nipped away at the last moment.

Philander changed his approach to going around the wicket from midway through his second over, but the strategy brought no rewards. The change of angle offered Gunathilaka width, and three boundaries followed, before Philander was replaced after a four-over opening spell.

When Kagiso Rabada was introduced, in the ninth over, Sri Lanka were one run away from their best opening stand in 17 innings, and they duly got there.

As if in celebration, Karunatrane played a rash hook shot off a Steyn short ball that found the gap between long leg and deep square, and went for six. Steyn delivered six overs in his first spell in international cricket since January, but he did not manage to make any progress towards Shaun Pollock’s record as South Africa’s highest Test wicket-taker, which remains three scalps away. Steyn left the field shortly before the lunch break, but returned and was seen briefly holding his problematic shoulder, which kept him out of action for 13 months from November 2016 to January 2018.

Instead, the breakthrough came at the other end, where Gunathilaka attempted a defensive push to a back-of-a-length Rabada ball, but played away from his body and managed only an edge. Quinton de Kock did the rest.

Keshav Maharaj was brought on in the 13th over and impressed immediately. His third ball beat Karunaratne’s inside-edge and hit the pad and while the impact was in line, it would have been umpire’s call on whether the ball was hitting leg stump.

Maharaj found the first signs of big turn and bounce when a ball pitched on middle stump and was collected by de Kock over his right shoulder. But it was Tabraiz Shamsi, playing his first red-ball Test for South Africa, who got the first wicket with spin. Shamsi had replaced Maharaj, who had planted a seed of doubt in Dhananjaya de Silva’s mind over the lbw and had left the Sri Lankan batsman hesitant to get his front foot across. He floated one across de Silva, who left a bat-pad gap. The ball drifted away and spun back in to bowl de Silva through the gate.

South Africa’s spinners loosened their grip as the lunch break approached, Kusal Mendis brought up 2,000 Test runs and Maharaj ended the session with a full toss as Sri Lanka ensured no further damage was done before the break.

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