Sri Lankan paceman Suranga Lakmal was the star of the day as he chipped away at the South African batting order and reduced them to 267 for six at stumps in the first Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Monday.
The opening bowler had taken four for 62 in 23 overs and, with the veteran spinner Rangana Herath chipping in with two for 48 in 20 overs, the Sri Lankans will certainly claim the first-day honours after the Proteas had won the toss and elected to bat first.
The South African innings was afflicted by the awful illness of batsmen getting in but not converting their starts into substantial scores: Temba Bavuma (3) was the only batsman dismissed before reaching double-figures, but JP Duminy’s 63 was the highest score and Stephen Cook (59) was the only other batsman to reach the fifty mark.
Duminy’s 63 off 95 balls had been the innings which promised the most, as the left-hander looked in total control from the moment he stroked his first ball, from Lakmal, through the covers for a sumptuous four.
His cover-driving was superb as he collected 10 fours and he looked in great touch whenever he followed the traditional virtue of playing straight and presenting the whole face of the bat to the ball.
But as soon as the left-hander reverted to old ways, trying to get too cute and sweeping Herath, he was trapped lbw and South Africa, having been 213-3, lost the initiative.
Bavuma, also given out lbw by Herath after a sharp review by the Sri Lankans, and captain Faf du Plessis, who scored a watchful 37 before edging Lakmal’s late away-swinger to first slip, were also dismissed before the close.
The home side had thoroughly dominated the first two-and-a-half hours as openers Cook and Dean Elgar were the epitome of solidity as they put on 104 for the first wicket – their first century stand as an opening pair and South Africa’s first at St George’s Park since Barry Richards and Eddie Barlow put on 157 against Australia in 1970 in their last Test before isolation.
Cook can be proud of the way he has started his Test career, notching his second half-century to go with two hundreds in his first seven Tests, but his propensity to work off-stump balls through midwicket proved his downfall on Monday as Lakmal produced a fine delivery that nipped away to find the edge, wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal taking the first of three tidy catches behind the stumps.
Lakmal struck again four overs later to send Elgar back to the changeroom for 45, the left-hander not needing to play at a wider away-swinger, and also edging to Chandimal.
Sri Lanka had bowled superbly after lunch, taking two wickets for 13 runs in the 11 overs after the break to reduce the Proteas to 105 for two, but Duminy then played beautifully to regain the initiative, while Hashim Amla continued to struggle.
Amla took 76 balls to go to 20 before also edging Lakmal to Chandimal and then, 25 minutes before the close, Du Plessis also fell to the impressive fast bowler.
Duminy, having driven the ball so well, will be disappointed to have got out sweeping, and with Herath also snapping up the wicket of Bavuma for two on the opening day, the wily left-arm spinner showed that he will be more and more of a factor.
Quinton de Kock (25*) and Vernon Philander (6*) will be the batsmen to resume on Tuesday morning.