Dimuth Karunaratne had an auspicious start to his debut as Sri Lanka's 17th Test captain as the Islanders took the honours on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa with a solid bowling performance at Kingsmead in Durban on Wednesday (February 13).
Left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando returned career-best figures of 4/62 while Kasun Rajtha picked up three wickets to bowl the hosts out for 235 in 59.4 overs. In reply, Karunaratne (28*) and debutant Oshada Fernando (17*) tackled a tough period against the South African pacers before bad light brought an end to the day's play 18 minutes ahead of schedule. At stumps, Sri Lanka were 49/1 after 16 overs still trailing South Africa by 186 runs.
Electing to bat first on a hard and bouncy Kingsmead surface with clouds hovering overhead, the Sri Lankan bowlers made their presence felt right away. Fernando drew first blood in just the second over of the day getting Dean Elgar to edge one straight into the hands of the wicket-keeper for nought.
The left-arm pacer should have had Hashim Amla too two balls later when the South African No.3 was struck on the pads with an in-dipper but umpire Aleem Dar thought otherwise. Some drama followed thereon when Sri Lanka were not allowed to review the decision with the umpire stating that they had used up the stipulated time of 15 seconds, this despite commentators on the SuperSport broadcast stating that approximately only 13 seconds had passed from the time the appeal was made to when Karunaratne went for a review.
Amla though failed to cash in on the reprieve falling soon after caught in the slips off Suranga Lakmal for 3 as the hosts slipped to 9/2. That soon became 17/3 when Fernando got one to nip back sharply in from a good length spot and breach Aiden Markram's defense on 11.
Temba Bavuma and captain Faf du Plessis then rode out the early storm and gradually started to change the momentum in a 72-run partnership. Sri Lanka presented the duo with plenty of freebies and they made sure to not miss out. Just when it looked the two will take the hosts through to lunch, du Plessis fell caught down the leg-side by Niroshan Dickwella off Rajitha for 35.
The partnership had reignited South Africa's hopes but with du Plessis' dismissal, Sri Lanka ensured they took ascendancy in the Test early.
Quinton de Kock started off the second session with a couple of fours but the hosts soon lost Bavuma, who was run out for 47, when a straight drive by De Kock ricocheted off bowler Fernando’s boot onto the stumps at the bowler’s end. After numerous replays television umpire Ian Gould decided Bavuma had narrowly failed to get his bat behind the crease.
While de Kock held forte at one end, the hosts continued losing wickets at the other. Vernon Philander was dismissed by a snorter from Rajitha for 4 while Keshav Maharaj after an eventful 35-ball 29 edged Fernando behind for his third wicket.
The hosts moved to tea on 181/7 largely riding on de Kock's fluent knock who certainly looked South Africa's most assured player on the day. He brought out his full array of strokes - the cut, pull and the reverse-sweeps to keep his side in the hunt. He reached his 15th half-century soon after the break as South Africa crossed the 200-run mark eight wickets down.
The wicket-keeper batsman tried his best to get acquire as many runs as possible with not a lot of support. He eventually was the last player dismissed for 80 when trying to go after Rajitha he could only miscue one straight up the air with Fernando at deep fine leg pouching a good catch. His 94-ball knock was laced with eight fours and a six as he took his side to a respectable total.
For Sri Lanka, who were on top their game throughout, Fernando was the pick of the bowlers.
The visitors then did not have the best of starts to their first innings with Lahiru Thirimanne falling for a 15-ball duck to Dale Steyn. The pacer tempted Thirimanne with a wide half-volley and the opener took the bait only to get a thick edge through to the 'keeper.
However, there wasn't any more luck for the hosts thereafter as Karunaratne and Oshada thwarted anything that was thrown at them.
Oshada has so far looked solid. He had a reprieve when on 10 he was involved in a horrible mix up with Karunaratne but the hosts failed to affect the run out. With the light fading quickly, the South African skipper had his two spinners, Maharaj and Elgar bowling in tandem but that was not enough to keep the players on the field as play ended 18 minutes before the official day's closure.