Sri Lanka took early control of the first test in South Africa with strong middle-order performances from Dhananjaya de Silva and Dinesh Chandimal leading their team to 340-6 at stumps on the opening day of the series on Saturday.

De Silva made a dashing 79 before he had to retire hurt with what appeared to be a left hip injury. Chandimal surpassed that with his 85 and wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella chipped in with 49. Their contributions ultimately justified Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s decision to bat first on a SuperSport Park pitch where fast bowlers — and especially South African fast bowlers — usually thrive.

De Silva and Chandimal’s partnership was 131 before it was curtailed by injury, and Chandimal and Dickwella then put on 99, lifting Sri Lanka from early trouble at 54-3 before lunch to 296-5 when Dickwella departed late in the afternoon.

De Silva had earlier left the field on a medic’s golf cart and had to be helped up the stairs to the dressing rooms. He could still return to the crease on the second day to further help his team, but indications are that the injury is more serious and might rule him out for the rest of the test. His injury came as he ran for a quick single.

Despite the disappointment over de Silva, Sri Lanka’s position in Centurion was much better than even its players had hoped for.

“We were thinking of a 280-plus score,” said Chandimal, who started carefully before cutting free to hit 11 fours in his innings.

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“The first 30 balls is very important but after that you have to score runs. That was my plan and I executed that well. And we as a team put a really good total on the board.”

A total somewhere near 400 would be a fabulous start for the Sri Lankans.

The tourists played with adventure for most of the day. It didn’t pay off early when skipper Karunaratne (22), Kusal Mendis (12) and Kusal Perera (16) all fell as they went at the South African bowlers.

Karunaratne chopped a cut shot onto his own stumps, Mendis hit a pull shot straight up in the air and Perera flashed at a ball way wide of off stump to edge to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, South Africa’s new test captain.

Perera’s strike was the first of three wickets on the day for Wiaan Mulder, who was the Proteas’ best bowler with his 3-68.

De Silva’s attacking approach did pay off before his flourishing century stand with Chandimal was interrupted by his injury. He hit 11 fours and a six and his 79 came at a strike rate of 75.

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Sri Lanka scored at a brisk four runs an over in every session of the first day as a South African attack missing strike bowler Kagiso Rabada — through a hip injury — struggled to impose themselves.

“I don’t think the guys are happy with the performance out there today,” Mulder said. “We didn’t execute. We gave them a couple of freebies and they got away from us.”

Both teams are playing their first test in nearly a year after they had series called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Sri Lanka appeared to have found its feet first. Karunaratne’s team is also surely emboldened by the fact that it became the first Asian team to win a test series in South Africa when it shocked everyone to take a two-match series 2-0 in early 2019.

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