By Madushka Balasuriya
On a day where nine Sri Lankan wickets fell, it would have been well within reason to expect Dale Steyn - just a wicket a way from becoming South Africa’s leading wicket-taker - to be amongst the headlines. Yet, at stumps on the first day of the second Test in Colombo, it was left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaja that had tongues wagging, with his eight wickets placing him among the six all-time best South African Test bowling performances, as Steyn went wicket-less, and Sri Lanka were hauled back after an impressive start.
Indeed, Sri Lanka will rue a missed opportunity to put the game and the series beyond South Africa, after openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka had given the hosts an ideal start on a dry surface that was offering minimal assistance to South Africa’s three-pronged pace attack.
That South Africa had decided to go with three paceman at the expense of a spinner was the biggest surprise of the game, and the decision came under even more scrutiny as Karunaratne and Gunathilaka made it to lunch without blemish and with 93 runs on the board as the pacers had little impact.
Shortly after the break, the pair posted Sri Lanka’s first 100-run opening partnership since November 2016 - their first at home in nearly eight years - and with both batsman racking up half centuries, Sri Lanka could hardly have dreamt of a better start.
But, on a wicket that was showing plenty of turn, it was not long before Maharaj came into play. Having gone wicket-less in his first 10 overs - with the Lankan openers happy to needle him for ones and twos safe in the knowledge that no other spin threat existed – he eventually got a stroke of fortune when Karunaratne tickled one down the leg side to De Kock.
Gunathilaka fell in his next over, mistiming a sweep, with the catch expertly taken by Kagiso Rabada in the deep, which meant that two new batsman - Dhananjaya De Silva and Kusal Mendis - were at the crease. But, with pressure being released at whatever end Maharaj wasn’t bowling at, the pair were able to put on 36 fairly risk-free runs before Mendis also fell foul to the sweep shot Gunathilaka, holing out to Rabada once more - this time for a much easier take.
Having lost three wickets in the middle session, Angelo Mathews and De Silva then weathered the storm until the tea break, but that reprieve was short-lived as in the first over after tea, Maharaj got one to spin sharply beyond Mathews’ forward defence, the ball taking the outside edge on the way to slip.
Keen to not let go of the initiative, De Silva - who by this time was looking quite comfortable - and Roshen Silva looked to consolidate. The pair put on 54 for the fifth wicket, and with Maharaj visibly tiring after a long spell, Rabada took matters into his own hands. Earlier in the innings, he was deprived by DRS, having beaten the left-handed Karunaratne all ends up with an outstanding yorker; this time, it was Silva on the receiving end as Rabada swung one in full, cramping the right-hander for space as the ball cannoned into the middle and leg stumps off his pads.
That wicket, Sri Lanka’s fifth, fell with the score on 223. Sri Lanka would go on to score just another 54 runs before stumps losing another four wickets in the process - all to Maharaj. Two of them would be gifts, with both Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera becoming the latest Sri Lankan batsman to fall prey to the sweep shot, both serving up regulation catches.
De Silva and Suranga Lakmal, however, can have no such complaints. De Silva was trapped in front to a Maharaj slider that was given out upon referral, while Lakmal was victim to an outstanding moment of fielding by Aiden Markram at short extra cover, plucking one low and two his left after a lofted Maharaj delivery had been driven slightly uppishly.
Sri Lanka would end the day on 277/9 with Rangana Herath and Akila Dananjaya at the crease, and while the pair will be hoping to add as many to a total that might already be enough, it will be with the ball in their hands that South Africa’s real test begins.
Free entrance to Test match via Gate No.8
Sri Lanka Cricket said it will allow the public to witness the ongoing second Test match played between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the SSC Grounds, Colombo, free-of-charge from the Eastern Hill End (Score Board Area). Accordingly, the fans who wish to witness the ongoing match free-of-charge can enter the ground via Gate Number 8 of the SSC, SLC added.
Vandersay given 1-year suspended sentence
Sri Lankan leg spinner Jeffrey Vandersay has been handed a one-year suspended sentence from all forms of international cricket after being found of guilty of misconduct during Sri Lanka’s recent tour to the West Indies. SLC have also fined him 20% of his annual contract fee.
“Vandersay was imposed with the above punishment, following the player’s admission of guilt over the incident,” noted a SLC press release. “SLC has also informed the player that during the period of serving the aforesaid suspended sentence, any breach of the contractual obligation shall be severely dealt with together with the suspension.”
Vandersay had been sent home from the West Indies mid-tour following the second Test in St. Lucia after the player had failed to report back to the team hotel following a night out. While Vandersay’s companions that evening had arrived back in time for the team’s departure the following morning, Vandersay himself is said to have missed the deadline.
Sri Lanka’s particularly strong sentence is also thought to be down to the fact that Vandersay had been warned at least once prior by team management over his conduct. (MB)