Stumps Sri Lanka 49 for 1 (Karunaratne 28*, Steyn 1-10) trail South Africa 235 all out (de Kock 80, Bavuma 47, Vishwa 4-62) by 186 runs
Sri Lanka arrived in South Africa a beleaguered team shorn of their first-choice bowling attack and light on experience in the middle order. South Africa, meanwhile, have their best pace bowling quartet in a generation to call upon, as well as the confidence of having just bested Pakistan across formats. But after the first day at Kingsmead, there was little to separate the two teams and, if anything, Sri Lanka are just ahead.
Temba Bavuma and Faf du Plessis added 72 to steady a floundering innings, while Quinton de Kock's counter-attacking 80 papered over some of the cracks as South Africa went in with just six specialist batsmen. Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha, who had a combined experience of seven Tests, had a hand (or a boot) in eight of the 10 wickets as South Africa were bowled out for 235 just under an hour into the final session.
Fernando picked up 4 for 62, while Rajitha had 3 for 68 to rattle rest of South Africa's batting. Then with the bat, Dimuth Karunaratne, the captain, and Oshada Fernando - one of two Sri Lankan debutants - reduced the deficit to 186 by taking Sri Lanka to 49 for 1 when bad light forced stumps with 15 minutes of play still left.
The hosts dropped Theunis de Bruyn to play five bowlers and bounce Sri Lanka out, but the move put pressure on their top order. On either side of Bavuma's stand with du Plessis and a run-a-ball 47-run partnership between de Kock and Keshav Maharaj, Sri Lanka made rapid inroads on a grassy pitch that didn't offer much pace but kept the bowlers encouraged with sideways movement.
Given the new ball, Vishwa removed both South African openers inside the first 10 overs of the day, and might have had a third if not for a DRS timing error by umpire Aleem Dar. But Amla couldn't capitalise, and was out to an indecisive poke five overs later as Suranga Lakmal had him caught at second slip by Kusal Mendis. The umpiring once again courted controversy as umpire Richard Kettleborough referred the catch, giving a 'not out' soft signal that was overturned by TV umpire Ian Gould.
When Vishwa bowled Aiden Markram in the next over with a delivery that curved in through the air to beat the inside edge and rattle the stumps, South Africa were in serious strife. Rajitha was the quickest bowler of the morning, regularly getting the ball through at more than 140kph, but he struggled a little for consistency and du Plessis brought up the fifty stand with a slashed square drive.
Searching for a breakthrough, Karunaratne tossed the ball to Rajitha for the final over before lunch, and he stuck with the second ball as du Plessis tickled one down the leg side. The decision, originally not given, was referred by Sri Lanka successfully. The biggest blow yet was Bavuma, who looked set for his 14th Test fifty when he was run out at the bowler's end. De Kock's bullet drive was intercepted accidentally by Vishwa, who deflected it off his boot onto the stumps, with the non-striker just short. Then, as the first member of a lengthened tail, Vernon Philander didn't last long and South Africa were floundering at 131 for 6.
But de Kock found, briefly at least, an able partner in Maharaj, who took it upon himself to lead the counter-attack and struck four boundaries before he feathered a poke at Vishwa's cutter to Dickwella for 29. Vishwa then picked up his fourth scalp when Kagiso Rabada flicked a dipping full toss out to Oshada Fernando at deep square leg. It looked like South Africa were in danger of not reaching the 200 mark.
Dale Steyn contributed a couple of lusty drives to a 33-run partnership with de Kock that helped them get there. De Kock brought up a 71-ball fifty during the course of their stand, before Lasith Embuldeniya, the 22-year-old left-arm spinner and the other Test debutant for Sri Lanka eventually accounted for Steyn by beating with an arm ball that sneaked through.
Gifted an extra life by Lahiru Thirimanne's dropped catch at third man to a ramped uppercut, de Kock motored into the 80s with a 101-metre six off Rajitha but then top-edged a similar swipe to fall in the same over, bringing the innings to an end.
Under leaden grey skies, and with Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Duanne Olivier to contend with, the challenge for Sri Lanka's openers was not an easy one and Thirimanne clung on for 15 run-less balls before he fished at a delivery angled across him by Steyn to present a dipping edge to de Kock. However, Karunaratne and Fernando resisted all that South Africa threw at them thereafter.
Karunaratne picked up two boundaries against the quicks and both men looked to get after South Africa's spinners - with Elgar given an over in fading light - before the deepening gloom forced the players from the field.