It turned out to be the best day for Sri Lanka on this tour. Helped by spirited bowling and purposeful batting, the visitors overcame the lacklustre performance from the first day to give themselves a sniff in the second Test.
South Africa were on top after the first hour of the day’s play. Dean Elgar and Rassie van der Dussen made run-scoring seem like a cakewalk. Then, a collapse first curtailed South Africa’s lead to under 150. Later, helped by their skipper composure, Sri Lanka managed to erase the deficit by the end of day’s play with six wickets still intact to build a fighting lead on the third day.
Elgar and Rassie’s record stand
If the plan for the visitor's rookie pace attack was to keep it tight and do not leak runs at the start of the day, Elgar and van der Dussen foiled it in the first hour. In 12 consecutive overs after the first one, the ball reached the fence at least once. In 11 of these via the bat, in one through four byes. The pair added 67 runs in this period of play.
Vishwa Fernando was short and wide to Elgar early on who cut him for two boundaries in consecutive overs to reach his 13th Test ton. Bowling 65% of the balls either too short or too full, Sri Lanka bowlers offered many boundary opportunities. To Elgar in particular, they failed on line as well, straying on his pads often.
Last evening, van der Dussen was cautious. He got off the mark on his 25th delivery. Today, he pulled the second ball he faced to the mid-wicket fence. Hitting some crisp drives, he improved the tempo of his innings and reached his half-century in 98 balls.
The only opportunity that the touring pacers produced in the first hour was when Asitha Fernando bowled a full out-swinger at van der Dussen's stumps. An outside edge flew to the right of Kusal Mendis at second slip who could only get the fingertips of his outstretched right hand to it.
Elgar and van der Dussen added 184 - the highest ever second-wicket stand for South Africa against Sri Lanka.
The visitor’s fightback
It turned out to be a tale of two halves for Sri Lanka in the morning session. After a dismal first hour, some help with the older ball and tighter lines induced a collapse for the hosts. Post the second-wicket stand, Sri Lanka pacers blew away South Africa, taking the last nine wickets for 84 runs.
As it usually happens, it was the drinks interval did the trick for the bowling team. Set on 127, Elgar reached out to a ball from Dushmantha Chameera from around the wicket that he had left throughout his innings.
Joining his overnight partner, van der Dussen fell to a nothing delivery from Dasun Shanaka in the next over. Late on the pull to a ball short and down the leg, he got a glove through to the keeper.
Lifted by quick wickets, the pacers especially Shanaka bowled better channels. The reward kept coming after Faf du Plessis edged an away going delivery to the slip cordon. An inspired bowling change worked for the visitors as Vishwa Fernando knocked off Quinton de Kock in the next over.
In the second session, the pacers continued the rhythm they gathered an hour before lunch. Vishwa Fernando regained the same from his previous tour of South Africa.
The two Fernando's continued the carnage. Vishwa yorked Wiaan Mulder from over the wicket and dismissed him leg-before in a decision that could have gone either way. Testing Keshav Maharaj throughout the over, Asitha nicked him off on the last ball.
Vishwa Fernando then moved to around the wicket and added two more wickets to his tally. Blinded by the angle, Temba Bavuma failed to read the line and left a ball that would have crashed into his stumps. After choosing to walk with daylight between his bat and ball in the first Test, Bavuma now has two brain-fades in a row.
Vishwa’s around the wicket line was too tough for Anrich Nortje whose outside edge flew to second slip. The last-wicket pair of Lungi Ngidi and Lutho Sipamla resisted for 37 balls, frustrating the Lankans with a few boundaries and near misses. Vishwa Fernando earned his maiden five-for by having Sipamla caught at gully.
Captain to the fore
With a big deficit, the hope for Sri Lanka was an express start by Kusal Perera. But, Ngidi laid any such possible counterattack to rest. In the first innings, Ngidi began with three maidens in a row. In the second innings, he started with one maiden less but a ball at a good length that jagged in from around the wicket to go past the acres of space between Perera’s bat and pad.
For quite a while, Sri Lanka's second-wicket pair replicated their South African counterparts. After the Tea interval, Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne added 69 runs in 13 overs. Karunaratne seized on anything that he can hit towards deep square-deep midwicket area and collected four boundaries. He was equally ready to score off the back foot on the offside. Thirimanne hit four boundaries himself through crisp drives on the offside.
Back to back drives past mid-on off Lutho Sipamla in the 22nd over of the innings earned the Sri Lankan skipper his half-century. But, Ngidi did not allow Sri Lanka to rejoice with two wickets in consecutive overs.
Ngidi had bowled only four testing overs as he ran to start his second spell in the 23rd overs of the innings. In that spell, he continued to challenge the lefties from around the wicket, testing them on both sides of the bat. The edges either fell short or flew past the gap in the slip cordon. But, the rewards that he got were early and on innocuous balls.
On the last ball of his first over of the second spell, Thirimanne got a glove to a ball down the leg and had to walk back disappointed. In the next over, Kusal Mendis was a touch better as he got bat to a ball in the same area. But, de Kock was brilliant, as he threw himself to his right to turn a four into a catch. Mendis bagged a pair in the Test that was also his third duck of the series and 23rd in international cricket at the age of 25: fifth-most at his age in cricket history.
The pace of Nortje - who replaced the unimpressive Sipamla - was too much to handle for Minod Bhanuka. A superb grab by Maharaj, running back from midwicket, after a top-edged pull ended Bhanuka's forgettable debut.
Bruised after a hit on his thumb, Karunaratne continued playing with soft hands and keeping his side afloat. Even Ngidi's spell did not faze him as he hit his consecutive full-length balls for fours down the ground. He hit Mulder in the same region minutes before the day's play as he ended nine short of what will be one his best Test 100s.
Karunaratne’s partner, Niroshan Dickwella played and missed or edged as many balls as he left or middle. But, more importantly, he survived to assist his captain as after the second day Sri Lanka are as much in the game as they were out of it after the first day.