DURBAN, South Africa — Sri Lanka’s bowlers made use of a helpful pitch to have South Africa struggling at 17-3 at one point before limping to lunch at 89-4 on the opening day of the first test on Wednesday.
Left-arm quick Vishwa Fernando took two wickets in his first spell — removing both openers — and Suranga Lakmal chipped in with the prize wicket of Hashim Amla to put South Africa’s top three batsmen back in the dressing room after only 7.4 overs of the series-opener at Kingsmead.
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma fought back with a 72-run stand to ease the early pressure but du Plessis fell right at the end of the session, taking the players to lunch and confirming Sri Lanka’s early ascendancy in a series few people are backing the tourists to win.
Sri Lanka came to South Africa with an inexperienced team under new captain Dimuth Karunaratne and off a run of three straight series losses. South Africa has won seven series in a row at home after sweeping Pakistan 3-0 last month.
But pre-series predictions went out the window in the opening session as Sri Lanka won the toss and jumped at the chance to put South Africa in on a green strip that turned out to be as good for the bowlers as it appeared.
Fernando dismissed Dean Elgar for a duck in the second over, caught behind by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. Lakmal removed Amla for three via a sharp catch at slip by Kusal Mendis. Fernando bowled the other opener, Aiden Markram, for 11.
Bavuma was 38 not out at lunch but du Plessis (35) fell off what turned out to be the last ball of the morning session when he edged a leg-side delivery from Kasun Rajitha and was caught by Dickwella.
South Africa even had an early let-off when Amla survived in bizarre circumstances when still on zero. He was hit on the pads by Fernando, umpire Aleem Dar ruled not out, but even though Karunaratne signalled for a decision review, Dar didn’t refer the decision to the TV umpire.
It was still unclear why Dar didn’t go ahead with the review, but replays showed Amla was out. That would have seen South Africa lose two wickets with no runs on the board. Ultimately, it didn’t cost Sri Lanka too much as Amla was out soon after.
Sri Lanka is on a run of three straight series defeats and has lost six of its last seven tests. Batsman Oshada Fernando and left-arm spinner Lasith Ambuldeniya were picked to make their debuts at Kingsmead while quick bowlers Vishwa Fernando and Rajitha have played only seven tests between them.
Sri Lanka’s last series victory came at home against South Africa last July. Since then, it has lost at home to England and away to New Zealand and Australia.
South Africa’s convincing victory over Pakistan moved the Proteas to No. 2 in the test rankings behind India. Sri Lanka is ranked No. 6.