COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Keshav Maharaj has ensured South Africa had much more reasons to smile heading into the tea interval on the first day of the second and final Test here at the SSC.
After a wicket-less first session for the Proteas, matters looked grim with Sri Lanka’s openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka enjoying the batting-friendly conditions.
However, Maharaj kept chipping away and was rewarded when he removed both Karunaratne and Gunathilaka within a short period of each other. Both had already gone to their half-centuries at that point, but it certainly was great relief for the visitors to see the back of Karunaratne especially.
The left-hander struck 53 – his third consecutive score of 50 and above – to push his run tally to 271 for the series before being caught down the leg-side by wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.
Gunathilaka seemed to be overcome with emotion after reaching his maiden Test half-century, and played a loose shot to be brilliantly caught on the boundary by Kagiso Rabada. The fast bowler showed great athleticism to cover the ground in the outfield before lunging forward to complete the catch.
The Maharaj-Rabada partnership proved successful shortly before the break again when Kusal Mendis chipped tamely to mid-wicket to be dismissed for 21. Maharaj’s three wickets showed the value of spin on the slow SSC surface and the Proteas may yet rue not picking a second specialist spinner in this crucial Test. South Africa have to win this final Test to level the series after the disappointment in Galle last week.