It took just one session of cricket for all the optimism of the Proteas building on their successful tour of Sri Lanka in 2014 to disappear.
Instead, after just two days of play, Faf du Plessis and his troops are already in survival mode and, realistically, can now only hope to save the two-Test series against the Islanders.
A series victory seems out of the question.
On Friday, Sri Lanka finished on 111/4, an already substantial lead of 272.
However, that healthy position was made possible by their spinners, who decimated a feeble Protea batting order to shoot them out for 126.
It’s South Africa’s lowest Test total ever on the Island.
Faf’s birthday turns(!) into a nightmare
Du Plessis celebrated his 34th birthday on Friday.
On a personal level, it was a relatively fulfilling one given that he gritted it out to make 49, even though he hardly looked fluent and found the inside edge of his bat regularly when playing forward.
The problem with that contribution was that the next best score was Vernon Philander’s painstaking, 86-ball 18.
South Africa simply can’t seem to handle top-class spin in foreign conditions.
Yes, there were a few beauties bowled by die tweaker duo of Dilruwan Perera (4/46) and Rangana Herath (2/39) but the Proteas’ technical skill was also found wanting.
Dean Elgar’s backlift led to his downfall, Quinton de Kock can’t seem to pick off-spin, Temba Bavuma tried to sweep a delivery that was too full and Philander played back to a quicker delivery when he should’ve been forward.
Keshav Maharaj finds his mojo
The good thing about South Africa’s leading spinner is that when he seems down, it doesn’t take long for him to get up again.
The left-arm spinner looked off the pace in Sri Lanka’s first innings, struggling to find a consistent length.
It possibly had to do with the illness he suffered in last weekend’s warm-up, which meant he went “cold” into this game.
But Maharaj almost single-handedly kept the visitors in sight (sort of) in the final session.
He finished with 3/37.
While his wicket of Danushka Gunathilaka (17) was a tad fortunate – it wasn’t an intelligent slog to mid-wicket – but his other two scalps were fully deserved.
Dhananjaya de Silva had his off-stump rattled by a fabulous delivery that turned sharply away from middle before a flighted ball had Kusal Mendis struck in front.
Dimuth’s on another planet
Fresh from a magnificent, unbeaten 158 in the first innings, Sri Lankan opener Dimuth Karunaratne continued his splendid form with a fluent 60 off 80 deliveries.
The left-hander doesn’t seem to be batting on the same pitch.
He stroked seven boundaries and looked in control before he strangely played away from the body to a decent but hardly unplayable delivery from Kagiso Rabada (1/28).