Sri Lanka far ahead after spinners hurt South Africa


Tea Sri Lanka 25 for 0 (Karunaratne 15*, Gunathilaka 10*) and 287 (Karunaratne 158*, Rabada 4-50) lead South Africa 126 (du Plessis 49, Perera 4-46) by 186 runs

The ghosts of India 2015 returned to haunt South Africa, who were spun out for their lowest total – 126 – in Sri Lanka to cede a massive first-innings lead of 161 runs. Seven of South Africa’s ten wickets fell to spin, only four batsmen got into double figures, and just one, captain Faf du Plessis, made more than 20.

If not for a seventh-wicket stand of 64 between du Plessis, who is celebrating his 34th birthday, and Vernon Philander, South Africa would have been in a worse position, having slumped to 51 for 6 in the morning session. Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan exposed South Africa’s much talked-about weaknesses against the turning ball and ensured Suranga Lakmal only needed to turn his arm over in the 37th over, on the stroke of Lunch. Lakmal was rewarded, too, with three wickets, including that of du Plessis, and helped clean up the tail.

South Africa’s last four wickets fell for 11 runs as collapses bookended an innings they will want to forget. But the visitors will not be able to escape their situation. Sri Lanka had already begun batting them out of the match with first-innings centurion Dimuth Karunaratne and his opening partner Danushka Gunathilaka getting to tea unscathed.

Rangana Herath had made the first incision into South Africa at the end of the opening day, when he removed Aiden Markram, and again on the second morning when he beat nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj with an arm-ball. Maharaj could have been forgiven his misjudgment but some of the senior batsmen who followed will need to scrutinise their technique, and perhaps confront the demons in their minds that cause them to make similar mistakes on tours to the subcontinent.

Dean Elgar played across a Dilruwan Perera delivery that took the outside edge to offer first slip a catch, Hashim Amla was given out caught at short leg on review off Dilruwan, Temba Bavuma dragged a Sandakan ball onto his stumps as he swept – a shot he had employed with success earlier in his short innings – and Quinton de Kock, also playing across the line, was bowled by Dilruwan. Shortly after drinks South Africa were 51 for 6, with du Plessis and the tail to come.

Philander showed the patience the top order lacked and defended solidly, while du Plessis tried to play a more positive role in searching for runs. The pair ushered South Africa past their lowest total since readmission, 79, and over the 100 mark but their time together was not without its nervous moments.

Sri Lanka could have seen the back of Philander in the 32nd over, when he was on 5. He pushed forward to defend a Herath delivery, which hit pad first and Sri Lanka did not review. Replays showed the ball would have hit the middle of middle stump. Sri Lanka could have seen the back of Vernon Philander again when he was given out lbw to Herath two overs later, but Philander reviewed umpire Paul Reiffel’s decision and replays showed the impact was outside off. The hosts eventually dismissed Philander in the 50th over, when he was given out lbw and reviewed unsuccessfully.

Du Plessis went three balls later and became the first South African to fall to Lakmal. After several inside-edges, du Plessis missed a ball that nipped in and was bowled. Lakmal also bowled Rabada and had Dale Steyn caught at first slip to dismiss South Africa with half an hour left in the second session of the day.

Steyn bowled two overs but was unable to make any progress on the two wickets he needs to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker but South Africa had two other chances. Maharaj had an lbw appeal against Gunathilaka, who had shuffled across enough to get umpire’s call on impact and in Maharaj’s next over, Bavuma dropped Gunathilaka on a lap sweep despite a run and dive from backward square.

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