Unbeaten second-wicket partnership sees South Africa close to overhauling tourists
South Africa 148 for 1 (Elgar 92*, van der Dussen 40*) trail Sri Lanka 157 (Perera 60, Nortje 6-56) by nine runs
Anrich Nortje gutted Sri Lanka’s middle order after Wiaan Mulder set a top-order collapse in motion, as South Africa skittled the visitors for 157 and moved into a commanding position at the Wanderers. Nortje frequently hit speeds of above 145kph on a pitch with steepling bounce at times, unsettling several Sri Lanka batsmen with his bouncer, and backing them into positions where they did not trust their defence against him. Many fell playing attacking shots, and Nortje claimed 6 for 56 – the best figures of his fledgling career.
After Sri Lanka had been dismissed inside 41 overs, shortly before tea, Dean Elgar saw South Africa through to the close with an unbeaten 92 off 119 balls – his team on the cusp of moving into the lead with nine wickets still in hand. He and Russie van der Dussen had put on 114 together by stumps.
Sri Lanka’s dispiriting day was buoyed only by the innings of Kusal Perera, whose 60 off 67 suggested Sri Lanka might go on to have a much bigger first innings than they eventually did. Beyond that, and the bowling of Asitha Fernando who claimed his maiden Test wicket, there was little for the visitors to celebrate. Already, their vastly depleted side may be out of this match. Both previous Tests they’ve played at the Wanderers have ended in innings defeats, and unless there is a substantially improved performance on Monday, this match could head in a similar direction.
What will be especially disappointing for Sri Lanka was that they were actually in decent shape after the first 20 overs of the day. Nortje had dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne early by gaining sharp bounce from just short of a length, but Perera had moved into attack mode, thumping South Africa’s bowlers through the off side with particular relish. He was hit a few times on the body early in the innings, particularly by Nortje, and his innings contained 11 fours, all told.
But then it was his wicket that started Sri Lanka’s huge slide. Having played out a maiden against Mulder’s first over, Perera drove at a wide-ish away-seamer and sent a catch to gully. Kusal Mendis was then nicked off by Mulder later in the same over, and Lahiru Thirimanne’s edge was also found an over after that. When Nortje had debutant Minod Bhanuka caught behind off the last ball before lunch, Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for 13 runs in the space of four overs to be 84 for 5 at the end of the first session.
Niroshan Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka did not last long against Nortje after lunch – both falling playing attacking shots – and the collapse had cost Sri Lanka six wickets for 39. Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera offered some semblance of resistance, putting on a stroke-filled 39 for the eighth wicket as both made scores in excess of 20, but Nortje eventually returned to clean up the tail.
In response, Elgar had been solid from the outset, rarely troubled by the Sri Lanka quicks for more than an over or two. He was especially good with the flicks off his toes early in his innings, when Sri Lanka were guilty of bowling too straight at him, but eventually the cover drive and the cut also became productive strokes. He found frequent boundaries, and maintained a strike rate of over 70 almost right the way through his stay, slowing only in the period just after Aiden Markram was dismissed.
van der Dussen meanwhile, struggled early in his innings, taking 25 balls to get off the mark, after having two lbw appeals raised against him. He settled towards the end of the day, and even hit Hasaranga’s legspin for consecutive fours in the last half hour, as South Africa closed within touching distance of Sri Lanka’s total.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf