With old body parts, animal and human, Victor Frankenstein created life from death. With new grass, green and growing, Evan Flint, the Newlands groundsman, on the home team's instructions, made life from dirt. Luckily Flint's creation did not turn out to be as monstrous as Frankenstein's but South Africa had Dean Elgar to thank for that, for there were moments when it looked as though it would.

A moment in the first over, when Suranga Lakmal teased Stephen Cook with away movement three times before being rewarded with an uncertain push that took the edge and carried to the keeper. A moment in the third, when a Lakmal delivery held its line and then nipped off the seam, missing Hashim Amla's bat and offstump but only just. A moment in the sixth over when Nuwan Pradeep's pace beat Amla's drive and the ball lifted enough to not graze offstump on its way through. But it was two moments three overs before lunch that would have had South Africa most worried.

Sri Lanka's 19-year-old newbie, Lahiru Kumara, bowled the ball of the day to remove Hashim Amla and then Sri Lanka's second-choice keeper, 21-year-old Kusal Mendis, took the catch of the day to remove JP Duminy. Suddenly, the pitch did not seem to serve South African interests so well.

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Dean Elgar is a self-confessed irritant of oppositions, which requires more than technique; he has the personality to play on a pitch like this. It was a pitch that demanded a bit of a fight and a lot of focus.

He was up against a Sri Lankan attack which, encouraged by early movement, showed more intent than they did in the second innings in Port Elizabeth and got better results than even in the first. For a while. They tried things: short balls, spin from both ends, a packed leg-side field. And they got some reward. Temba Bavuma was out pulling and Faf du Plessis gave it away after a let-off. But Elgar was not going to do the same.

There were enough balls on the pads to feed his leg-side strength - 80 of his 129 runs came in that area - and enough gaps on the offside to ensure he was never bogged down. There was also enough of an incentive for Elgar to will himself on.

He scored 45 and 52 in the first Test, where he shared two century stands with Stephen Cook. Elgar looked good enough to convert both of those scores into something bigger but poor shot selection let him down. He would have known more was expected of him. More caution. More concentration. More runs.

Until he nicked off late in the day to the second new ball, Elgar played a chanceless innings and put South Africa in what they will consider a strong position despite being six down. More than that, he seemed to shut the door on the monster and proved his captain right.

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Pre-match. Faf du Plessis talked up his team's willingness to play on green tops. He said there were "not scared" of early movement and hinted that there are some teams who were.

Not only was du Plessis acknowledging an open secret but he went further than that and admitted that South Africa are ordering pitches like one would food off a menu. They like theirs green and as juicy as possible. Given the drought that has gripped the country for more than a year - its so dry that South Africa's assistant coach Adrian Birrell admitted if it does not rain by this evening he will have to seriously consider getting rid of the cattle on his farm because they will die of thirst - only the former can be organised.

There will continue to be conversations about the extent to which teams should be allowed to tailor conditions to suit their strengths. South Africa will point to India and the spinner-friendly surfaces they were presented with last summer. South Africa's detractors will point to these two pitches, and say payback was meted out to the wrong opposition. The evidence is that these surfaces are offering a fair contest between bat and ball albeit without the turn, which is what most groundsman say they aim for.

Flint is not known for leaving this much grass on his pitch, not even when South Africa bowled Australia out for 47. That match happened in November, an unusually early time of year to play Test cricket in Cape Town, and the surface was considered underprepared. There was just enough movement on offer for Vernon Philander to have his way.

Imagine if he had been let loose on this deck first up. It may have unleashed a real monster and Sri Lanka may just be pleased they didn't have to put up with that.