GALLE - Opener Dean Elgar smashed a century before Sri Lanka pegged back South Africa with four key wickets late on the opening day of the first Test in Galle on Wednesday. The visitors were cruising at one stage after a cracking 103 from Elgar and a sedate 80 from Faf du Plessis. But the hosts fought back in the final session to restrict South Africa to 268-5 at close of play.
Quinton de Kock (17) and Dale Steyn (0) were the not out batsmen. Elgar, 27, hit 11 fours and three sixes in his 186-ball knock but his dismissal immediately after the tea break triggered a mini-batting collapse that handed the advantage to the hosts. "I felt our bowlers bowled really well on a batsman-friendly wicket," said Sri Lanka's bowling coach Chaminda Vaas.
"They kept their cool and bowled extremely well. Hopefully, now we can wrap it (South African innings) up in the first session tomorrow." Elgar was sent back by paceman Suranga Lakmal (2-29), who had the left-hander caught behind by wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal. Hashim Amla, leading the side for the first time in Test cricket, had a forgettable outing as a batsman and made just 11 after facing 36 balls.
Du Plessis holed out to Kaushal Silva off slow bowler Dilruwan Perera, and the in-form AB de Villiers (21) was bowled by Lakmal with the new ball in the penultimate over of the day. The day belonged to Elgar, who shared a 70-run opening stand with Alviro Petersen (34) and another of 125 with du Plessis for the second wicket. Elgar, playing his 10th Test, reached his second century in style, dancing down the track to smack Perera (2-100) for a massive six over the fence. The visitors' dressing room erupted in applause for what was the first ton by any South African opener on the island.
Elgar said the rest of the batsmen would have to work really hard because the wicket had already deteriorated quite considerably. "We'd have loved to have been three-down at the end of the day. But we have batters in the shed who all know how to play their shots," he said. "It's going to be a lot of hard work, especially with the wicket deteriorating quickly."
Elgar's form bodes well for a side undergoing a transition after the retirements of Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis. Du Plessis, batting at number three for the first time in 15 Tests, also appeared at ease against the bowling attack, which relied heavily on spin. He hit five boundaries and a six in his patient 197-ball innings. The home team were dealt an injury blow when Shaminda Eranga split the webbing on his bowling hand while fielding and had to be taken out of the attack.
The visitors dominated the first two sessions after Amla won the toss and opted to bat on a placid track. Petersen was particularly severe on left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, welcoming him with four boundaries in his first over of the day. Elgar in turn picked Eranga for special treatment, hitting him for three fours in the same over, including one that crashed away through the point boundary.
Desperate for a breakthrough, Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews made frequent bowling changes but failed to find success until the 17th over, when Perera had Petersen trapped leg before wicket. Petersen was unhappy with the decision of on-field umpire Richard Kettleborough and asked for a review.
The decision was upheld when replays showed the ball would have clipped leg-stump.
SOUTH AFRICA 1ST INNINGS:
A Petersen lbw b Perera 34
D Elgar c Chandimal b Lakmal 103
F du Plessis c Silva b Perera 80
H Amla c Perera b Herath 11
AB de Villiers b Lakmal 21
Q de Kock not out 17
D. Steyn not out 0
EXTRAS: (lb2) 2
TOTAL: (for 5 wickets; 91 overs 268
FOW: 1-70, 2-195, 3-220, 4-246, 5-266
BOWLING: Lakmal 16-6-29-2, Eranga 9-4-32-0, Herath 37-7-95-1, Mathews 2-0-10-0, Perera 27-3-100-2
TOSS: South Africa
UMPIRES: Billy Bowden (NZL), Richard Kettleborough (ENG)
TV UMPIRE: Nigel Llong (ENG)
MATCH REFEREE: Jeff Crowe (NZL)