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Report, Day 1: Opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne fought a lone battle for Sri Lanka with an unbeaten 158 to help the hosts to 287 all out on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa on Thursday.
The Proteas faced four overs before stumps in Galle, closing at 4-1 in their first innings after losing opener Aiden Markram to veteran Rangana Herath as Sri Lanka introduced spin from both ends with the new ball.
The day belonged to Karunaratne, whose 6-hour marathon innings helped Sri Lanka to a respectable total after a middle-order collapse. The 30-year-old, who missed the tour of West Indies due to injury, became the fourth Sri Lankan to carry his bat after Sidath Wettimuny, Russel Arnold and Marvan Atapattu.
Karunaratne's 158 came off 222 deliveries and contained 13 fours and a pulled six off Dale Steyn.
"This is the first time I am playing against Dale Steyn. He was trying to get me out in the first few overs and I was very careful against him," Karunaratne said. "It just naturally came to me to play that shot. I have to be careful in the next innings to leave the bouncers."
Veteran paceman Steyn is making a comeback after injury and finished Sri Lanka's innings on 1-54 off 13 overs. The 35-year-old Steyn now has 420 wickets and needs one more to match Shaun Pollock's tally of 421 as the highest wicket-taker for South Africa.
Suranga Lakmal is leading the Sri Lankan side in the absence of Dinesh Chandimal, who pleaded guilty to conduct contrary to the spirit of cricket and will miss the two-Test series along with coach Chandika Hathurusingha. Sri Lanka had refused to take the field on the third morning of the St. Lucia Test against West Indies last month to protest a ball-tampering charge against Chandimal.
Sri Lanka won the toss on Thursday, chose to bat and got off to a good start, reaching 93-2 at lunch.
After the break, Sri Lanka lost three wickets for four runs — going from 115-2 to 119-5 — to hand the tourists the initiative. Steyn accounted for Mendis when the batsman flicked one straight into the hands of Kagiso Rabada. Rabada was then introduced for his third spell, replacing Steyn from the Dutch Fort End, and he took two wickets in his first three deliveries.
In Rabada's next over, Niroshan Dickwella was ruled out trapped leg before wicket, but the batsman successfully reviewed the decision.
Rabada finished with 4-50, well backed up by left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who finished with 3-91.
Rain forced the umpires to take tea early and, when play resumed, Sri Lanka's struggles continued as it slumped to 176-8. With the ball reverse swinging and South Africa's pacemen bowling probing lines, it looked as if the Sri Lankans might not post 200 runs.
However, Karunaratne put up a fine rearguard action with the tail as the last two wickets produced a total of 111 runs to help the hosts to a decent total.
Last man Lakshan Sandakan posted a career-best 25 and was involved in a 63-run stand, the highest partnership for the last wicket in Tests between Sri Lanka and South Africa. It was also the highest partnership in the Sri Lankan innings, followed by the 48-run stand between captain Suranga Lakmal and Karunaratne for the ninth wicket.
Despite the late fightback, it was a disappointing batting effort by the Sri Lankans. After Karunaratne's 158, the next best score in the innings was Danushka Gunathilaka's 26.
After Markram was dismissed cheaply, South Africa sent in Keshav Maharaj as nightwatchman ahead of Hashim Amla.
South Africa trailed Sri Lanka by 283 runs at stumps with nine wickets left.
"I would say honors are probably even," Shamsi said. "The Sri Lankans batted really well towards the end. You must give credit to their tail. They hung around with the set batsman and did the job."
With inputs from AP