A few late wickets helped the Proteas stay in touch with Sri Lanka on their return to Test cricket for the first time in 11 months on Saturday. 

After a difficult year in which the coronavirus pandemic halted all sport, there was finally relief for South Africa’s cricketers when they faced the touring side on the opening day of the first Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion and Wiaan Mulder’s three wickets helped prevent the opposition from complete dominance. 

The all-rounder, playing his first Test match since debuting against the same opponent in Port Elizabeth during February 2019, claimed three for 68 in a disciplined performance as Sri Lanka reached stumps at an impressive 340 for six.

The team got there after a hugely impressive batting display by Dhananjaya de Silva (79 off 106 balls) and Dinesh Chandimal (85 off 161 balls) – the pair sharing a fine 131-run fourth-wicket partnership that only ended after the former was injured.

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There was also a handy 49 by Niroshan Dickwella that helped the Islanders, who won a Test series 2-0 on their previous visit to the country, make another positive start to the tour. 

In South Africa’s defence, the side did name one of its most inexperienced pace bowling attacks since readmission to the international fold with just 12 caps between Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Mulder and debutant Lutho Sipamla. 

After a nervy start, the rookies did grab three early wickets in the form of away captain Dimuth Karunaratne (22), Kusal Mendis (12) and Kusal Perera (16). Ngidi (1/54), Nortje (1/60) and Mulder were responsible for those wickets leaving the score on 54 for three in the 11th over.

But De Silva and Chandimal dug in as they punished everything loose that was sent down by the home bowlers. Their stand eventually ended when the former pulled up while completing a quick single – his injury forcing him to retire hurt.

A 99-run stand then followed between Dickwella and Chandimal, ensuring the Sri Lankans still had some good bite. However, Mulder dismissed both of them in quick succession. Sipamla (1/68) then bagged his first Test scalp when he bowled Wanindu Hasaranga (18) to leave the South Africans in a much better position at the close.