Faf du Plessis played a crucial role in his first test since giving up the captaincy to put South Africa back on track in response to a challenging first-innings total from Sri Lanka in the series opener on Sunday.
Du Plessis’ 55 not out guided South Africa out of trouble and to 317-4 at stumps on Day 2 of a fast-moving first test at SuperSport Park, where both teams scored at a rapid rate of four runs or more an over.
Replying to Sri Lanka’s first-innings 396 its best total in a test in South Africa the Proteas had fought their way to just 79 runs behind.
South Africa made a whirlwind start with a 141-run opening stand between Dean Elgar (95) and Aiden Markram (68), and was 200-1 at one stage.
But Sri Lanka, missing two bowlers to injury, produced a burst of three wickets for 20 runs after tea to shake the South Africans.
Bustling fast bowler Lahiru Kumara had Rassie van der Dussen caught behind, Dasun Shanaka reacted with a sharp caught and bowled to deny Elgar a century, and legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga collected a memorable first test wicket on his debut when he beat new South Africa captain Quinton de Kock (18) with a googly to have him caught at slip.
Du Plessis was calm to reach a 22nd test hal- century and was supported by Temba Bavuma (41 not out) in an unbroken 97-run stand. That left the South Africans upbeat despite still trailing, and after Sri Lanka was clearly on top for the first day-and-a-half in Centurion.
It was a rewarding day for all of us today, Elgar said. I really thought we changed the momentum today and we had the momentum back in our dressing room."
Resuming on 340-6, Sri Lanka’s 396 was built on 85 from Dinesh Chandimal and 79 from Dhananjaya de Silva on Day 1. Allrounder Shanaka added a forceful 66 not out from No. 7, hammering five sixes in his first test half-century and making sure Sri Lanka’s hard work with the bat on the first day wasn’t wasted on the second.
He propelled his team to the brink of 400 with some big blows on the second morning before Sri Lanka was all out before lunch.
But Sri Lanka, after that highly promising batting performance, had unforeseen problems with its bowling attack.
Fast bowler Kasun Rajitha pulled up having bowled just 13 deliveries in South Africa’s first innings, and hobbled off the field with what appeared to be a groin problem.
That followed on from allrounder de Silva being forced to retire hurt while batting on Saturday with a left thigh injury. He was out for two weeks, the Sri Lanka team said, meaning he won’t be able to take part in the rest of this test unless Sri Lanka faces a desperate batting situation and he’s needed. But Sri Lanka won’t be able to call on his useful off-spin bowling, putting the tourists two bowlers down.
It’s a bit hard but its test cricket, Shanaka said.
Sri Lanka retained hopes of early wickets on the third day, Shanaka said, with the new ball just eight overs away.
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