Sri Lanka hit back after Elgar century
South Africa 268 for 5 (Elgar 103, du Plessis 80, Lakmal 2-29) v Sri Lanka
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
At 195 for 1, South Africa had made a near-perfect start to the Tests after the victorious ODI series, but Sri Lanka hit back with four wickets after tea to edge the day on a flat, dry pitch. Dean Elgar became the first South Africa opener to make a Test hundred in Sri Lanka but his dismissal in the final session kickstarted the hosts' fightback.
It had been all South Africa till then. In his first Test as captain, Hashim Amla had won the toss on a pitch expected to turn later. Elgar, in only his third Test innings as opener, and his first outside South Africa, had responded with an innings full of positivity and equally high on concentration. Faf du Plessis, batting at No. 3 for the first time in Tests, had battled his way through scoreless periods with aggressive footwork against spin. By tea, the second-wicket partnership had grown to 124. Alviro Petersen's fall against the run of play for 34 in the morning had been the only blip for the visitors. To add to Sri Lanka's worries, Shaminda Eranga had been restricted to nine overs after splitting the webbing of his right hand while fielding.
But Sri Lanka had found some promising reverse swing after lunch, and they did so again after tea. The first examination yielded no results but during the second Elgar went after a Suranga Lakmal delivery that held its line and edged it behind. A small, but significant opening had been made.
Amla was intent on driving at anything pitched up, but the timing just wasn't there. He tried to loft the tireless Rangana Herath over the off side, but only spooned a catch to wide mid-off for 11.
Du Plessis, who was eager to combat spin by advancing down the pitch, finally failed to reach the pitch of an offbreak from Dilruwan Perera and forward short leg was in business.
AB de Villiers seemed to be taking South Africa to stumps safely, despite Sri Lanka taking the second new ball, when he tried a weak, loose drive to Lakmal and found his stumps disturbed in the penultimate over. The final session had cost South Africa four wickets for 74 runs in 31 overs.
The first one had read 111 for 1 in 29 overs. Both captains were eager to bat and it soon became apparent why. There was no seam movement, barely any swing and the bounce was largely predictable as well as harmless. Elgar and Petersen did what they were required to do: they left well, defended strongly off either foot and having seen there was nothing alarming in the pitch, soon started putting the bad deliveries away. The duo put on 70 at more than four an over.
Herath came on as early as the seventh over, and finished with 37 for the day. The pitch wasn't conducing for him so early in the match. Elgar was even able to go back and late-cut him against the turn to the third-man boundary. The runs were flowing now for South Africa. By the tenth over, Angelo Mathews had brought himself on as the fourth bowler.
South Africa have had three century opening partnerships in Tests in Sri Lanka and this looked set to be the fourth one but in Perera's second over, Petersen went back to a flighted delivery and was caught in front as it came on without much turn.
Du Plessis walked in and worked himself to a steady start with a series of paddle-sweeps. He was smothered after lunch though, but finally broke free from a period where he made 6 off 45 by skipping out to loft Perera over mid-off and mid-on for consecutive fours.
Elgar was much more comfortable in the crease, playing late, allowing the ball to come on, and then committing himself with conviction. He was watching the ball so hard that even when Perera seemed to have beaten him with flight and drift, he was able to adjust and place the ball past mid-off for four. That took him to 90, and a straight six, when on 96, off the same bowler brought a long-drawn scream of a celebration.
South Africa took tea at 194 for 1, but despite being a bowler short, Sri Lanka weren't prepared to hand them a third session on the trot.
Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo