South Africa roar back with Maharaj's eight-for

Keshav Maharaj and Hashim Amla celebrate a wicket
Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC July 20, 2018

Stumps Sri Lanka 277 for 9 (Herath 5*, Dananjaya 16*) v South Africa

Keshav Maharaj singlehandedly kept South Africa competing on a dry pitch in Colombo, where he claimed the best figures by a visiting spinner on Sri Lankan soil. Maharaj was operating as the only specialist spinner in the XI, and his career-best 8 for 116 engineered mini-collapses in a Sri Lankan innings that could not sustain its strong start.

Danushka Gunathilaka and Dimuth Karunaratne, put on the first century stand for the opening pair since October 2016 , and the first at home since 2010. Both went on to score half-centuries. Dhananjaya de Silva joined them with the milestone but none of the three pushed on to a three-figure score, and no-one in the middle-order made more than 22.

Sri Lanka lost 3 for 37 after their first-wicket stand and 5 for 41 later in the day, and may not get to 300. But with three spinners in their attack, they will believe their total is worth much more.

South Africa have armed themselves with an extra batsman to prepare for the challenge, leaving out the second specialist spinner, a selection which threatened to backfire on them when the seamers failed to make inroads.

Dale Steyn's wait to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa's leading wicket-taker continues. Steyn bowled 15 overs but caused few problems, fewer than Kagiso Rabada or Lungi Ngidi, who was selected ahead of Vernon Philander for this Test. Of the three, Rabada was the stand-out performer, putting in the most work and enjoying some reward, when he claimed the only other wicket in the day.

Gunathilaka and Karunarathe began confidently, taking on the full ball and in Karunaratne's case, the short ball too, and it was only when Ngidi replaced Steyn, seven overs into the morning, that they were properly challenged. Ngidi had an appeal for lbw against Karunaratne with his fifth ball, beat his outside edge with his next, drew a leading edge from Gunathilaka in this third over, an uncontrolled aerial shot four balls later and an outside edge that fell short of point. Gunathilaka settled after that trial by Ngidi and registered the first half-century of his five-Test career, with the milestone coming post-lunch, the delivery after Karunaratne's.

By then, Maharaj had bowled nine overs without success, and he went on to deliver a 10th before things started to happen. Maharaj tossed one up, Karunaratne flicked feebly as it spun down the leg side and Quinton de Kock moved quickly to take the catch. In his next over, Maharaj dangled a delivery outside off, Gunathilaka went on to slog sweep and top-edged to deep-square leg, where Rabada took an impressive diving catch.

Kusal Mendis carried on where the top two left off and played enterprisingly for his 34-ball 21 but became the second batsman to fall to the sweep. Sri Lanka had lost three of their top four in the middle session and needed to consolidate.

But Angelo Mathews did little to aid the cause when, three balls after tea, he played at a Maharaj ball that bounced and took the outside edge to offer Faf du Plessis a catch at slip. Mathews did, at least, manage to score the eight runs he needed to become the ninth Sri Lankan to 5,000 Test runs.

Instead, it was up to de Silva to steady Sri Lanka. He found runs off Maharaj fairly easily, used his feet well, built a fifth-wicket stand of 54 with Roshen Silva and recovered from a blow to the shoulder after he ducked into a Rabada short ball to bring up fifty off 100 balls. But he could not stop the slide that followed afterwards.

Roshen became the only Sri Lankan to fall to a seamer in the innings when he was bowled by a Rabada yorker, and the lower order fell away, largely of their own doing. Niroshan Dickwella gloved a sweep to first slip, de Silva was given out on review off a slider, Dilruwan Perera swept to backward-square leg and Suranga Lakmal drove to short extra cover. Maharaj bowled 25 overs in his first spell and seven in his second, putting a workload of 32 overs on the first day, and leaving South Africa to question whether they should have instead sacrificed a quick for a second slower bowler, especially on the evidence late in the day.

Part-timer Aiden Markram, bowling offspin with the second new ball, found substantial turn and bounce and on one occasion, got the ball to explode off the pitch as it spun sharply away outside off stump. After South Africa take the last Sri Lankan wicket, their batsmen will have to step up on this pitch, and will need to show better application than they did in Galle if they are to stay alive in the series.

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