Day One in South Africa: Andrew’s Assessment

Andrew Fidel Fernando in ESPNcricinfo, 27 December 2020 where the title reads “Dhananjaya de Silva and Dinesh Chandimal’s contrasting half-centuries put Sri Lanka in box seat

Sri Lanka 340 for 6 (Chandimal 85, de Silva 79, Mulder 3-68) vs South Africa

Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva raised Sri Lanka from 54 for 3, before each producing effective but contrasting innings that were each brought to a close by misfortune, rather than any significant flaws of their own. Their 131-run stand not only turned around a day that seemed to be going poorly, but also set Sri Lanka on track for their highest ever total in South Africa – their 340 for 6 at day’s end on the cusp of beating the previous best: 342 at Newlands in 2012.

Runs also came quickly on the first day, despite consistent seam movement from this surface, in addition to uneven bounce. Sri Lanka scored at four runs per over across the day – de Silva leading the way with a strike rate of 75 during his innings of 79. That de Silva had to retire hurt with seemingly a serious thigh injury, though, will worry the visitors, who need him for his offspin almost as much as they do for his batting.

South Africa’s inexperienced attack were guilty of being wayward, and were at times too easily hit off their lines and lengths. No one epitomised this better than debutant Lutho Sipamla, who was given the new ball and went for 28 from his first three overs, though his control improved throughout the day, and he even claimed a wicket in the third session.

No South Africa bowler went at less than three runs per over. Even Anrich Nortje, who occasionally crossed 93mph/150kph, and was frequently in the mid-140kph range, was at times taken down by de Silva and other members of the Sri Lanka top order.

Wiaan Mulder took three wickets, but was perhaps fortunate – he had Kusal Perera caught behind chasing a shortish wide ball in the morning, then had a ball leap dramatically off the surface to take Chandimal’s bat handle in the third session (his lbw against Niroshan Dickwella was all him, though). Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and Sipamla took a wicket apiece. Keshav Maharaj found some turn toward the end of the day, but was largely forced to try and contain the Sri Lanka batsmen, even as they frequently used their feet to him and tried to attack.

Story Image
Dhananjaya de Silva acknowledges his half-century  AFP via Getty Images

While Chandimal top-scored for the day, hitting 85 off 161, there was little doubt that de Silva’s was the more impressive innings. He cruised through the back half of the first session, and finessed the first half of the second, starting his scoring with an imperious flick over midwicket, before unfurling a series of exquisite drives, which defined his knock.

Nortje was fastest through this period, and yet de Silva was utterly unflustered by the pace, creaming a swinging Nortje ball through the covers early in his innings, before smoking him twice past mid on soon after lunch. He reached his fifty with the most effortless shot of the all – a square drive off Wiaan Mulder – and continued to prosper, eleven fours and a six bejeweling his stay.

The six was off Maharaj. The spinner had raised a strong lbw appeal off him the ball before, but de Silva was immediately flitting down the pitch to launch him over long-on.

His injury midway through the afternoon looked awful, however. He was wincing as he pulled up while completing a quick single, and soon collapsed at the non-striker’s end. After several minutes of on-field treatment the decision was made to take him off, and he had to be driven on the back of a buggy, then virtually carried up the stairs to the dressing room. He will undergo scans on Saturday evening, but it did not seem hopeful that he would be able to play a major role in this match.

Where de Silva sailed to a good score, Chandimal ground himself to one. Chandimal’s strike rate was barely breaching 30 at times, though he eventually managed to haul it up to 53 with a spate of boundaries either side of tea. Early on, Chandimal soaked up deliveries and put away the expansive shots, choosing only to punish the truly bad deliveries.

That’s not to say there were no pretty shots – two driven boundaries off Nortje were eyecatching, and he cut viciously whenever bowlers went wide. He seemed determined to get to triple figures, when a Mulder ball trampolined up from a back-of-a-length, took his bat handle, and found Faf du Plessis at slip.

dickwella and Chandimal

Before he was dismissed, though, Chandimal also put on a 99-run partnership with Niroshan Dickwella, who himself fell only one run short of a half-century. Dickwella – now a more mature Test batsman than he once was – played watchfully early in his innings, and did not hit his first boundary until his 16th ball. He was strong on the off side as usual, but missed a flick against Mulder and was correctly given out lbw (though Dickwella reviewed). Sri Lanka’s allrounders – Dasun Shanaka and Wanindu Hasaranga – took the team past the 300 mark, and Shanaka was still around at stumps, on 25 not out.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

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