A century stand between JP Duminy and Hashim Amla plumped the scoreboard for South Africa after they had decided to bat first in the Wanderers Test. Sri Lanka struck twice before lunch and also missed a chance to remove Amla, playing in his 100th Test, on 5; by tea, he had ground his way to a first half-century in 11 innings, happy to play second fiddle to the more in-tune Duminy.
The pair came together with the score on 45 for 2 after wickets in successive overs had given Sri Lanka reward for some testing bowling in helpful conditions. From the outset, Duminy chose to be positive, happy to drive whenever the ball was pitched up despite the bounce in the surface. His approach allowed Amla an extended period of bedding-in as he attempted to celebrate his personal landmark with an innings of similar magnitude.
Survival was not the prettiest but Amla has credit in the bank where that is concerned. He had ground his way to 6 from 41 balls, his vigilance palpable after being given an early life, before flashing a cut for his first boundary. Later in the afternoon session, a brace of cover-driven fours off Suranga Lakmal suggested that his investment was paying off and he reached his fifty, from 109 deliveries, with a scuttled single in the last over before tea.
Duminy skipped along at the other end, scoring 43 of their first 55 runs in partnership and raising the South Africa 100 with a trademark drive through the covers. His half-century was brought up with a controlled edged through the slip cordon shortly after and he maintained his focus to move to within sight of a sixth Test hundred by the time the tea interval arrived. Remarkably, having made 63 in Port Elizabeth to set South Africa on their way, it was the first time Duminy had passed fifty twice in a series since his debut in Australia eight years ago.
A change of the ball brought a change of Sri Lanka’s luck during the morning session as they removed both South Africa openers. Having won the toss, Faf du Plessis declined the chance to unleash his four-man pace attack and instead determined that setting the tempo with the bat – as they had done in the first two Tests of the series – was the way to go once again.
Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka’s captain, must surely have been smiling to himself at the decision and his mood would have brightened further when he took his first wicket in six Tests to break the opening stand between Dean Elgar and Stephen Cook. However, Dhananjaya de Silva’s drop of Amla in the last over before lunch was to cast a shadow over their afternoon.
Elgar and Cook had seen off the new ball, with Lakmal particularly probing, but couldn’t withstand its replacement. Mathews had Cook lbw for a ponderous 10 and then Lahiru Kumara, having waited 14 overs for a chance on a Wanderers surface considered among the fastest and bounciest in the world, nipped out Elgar in his second over.
Given a juicy pitch and slightly overcast morning, it was curious that South Africa opted not to try and inflict immediate damage to Sri Lanka’s fragile batting order. Duanne Olivier was handed a debut, in place of the spinner Keshav Maharaj, but then asked to cool his heels in the dressing room. With 224 first-class wickets at 21.38, despite being just 24, the uncapped Olivier had a CV to give Sri Lanka shivers as they attempted to stave off a series whitewash.
Instead of an interrogation for the batsmen, Lakmal and Kumara had the chance to impress again with the ball but South Africa’s openers made it through the first hour intact, despite some testing moments. Nuwan Pradeep rapped Cook on the pads with one that was bouncing over, while Lakmal smuggled a curving delivery past Elgar’s inside edge, the only contact being with the flap above the knee roll.
It was not until the 11th over that bat met ball with attacking conviction, as Elgar struck Lakmal for back-to-back fours – the first crunched down the ground, then another steered through backward point. That prompted Sri Lanka to twice enquire about changing the ball and, at the end of the over, the umpires agreed that it had gone out of shape; leading to the sight of Rod Tucker crouched over the pitch and repeatedly throwing the (presumably new) replacement into the surface, to get it into a comparable condition. Elgar looked on with apparent concern.
The switch was accompanied by a change in the bowling, Mathews bringing himself into the attack. His first ball was met by Elgar again stroking through mid-off but Sri Lanka’s captain ended the opening stand at 45 a few overs later when Cook shuffled in front of off stump, missed an in-dipper, and shuffled off.
That brought in Amla. Before the toss he had been presented with a commemorative set of shirt, plaque and gold medal; Mathews welcomed him by hitting him on the glove third ball. He also edged Mathews short of the slips before de Silva gave him left-off when diving forward to a presentable chance at gully off Lakmal.
Amla survived but one did bring two for Sri Lanka. Kumara’s extra pace had seemingly ruffled Elgar when he rapped the opener on the hand with his fourth ball; it was not long before Elgar chased a wide, rising delivery and sent a thick edge into the hands of first slip. He left the field punching his bat, knowing the fight would have to be won by someone else.