Colombo - Keshav Maharaj returned the best ever figures by a South African spin bowler on the sub-continent and the best against Sri Lanka by any South African bowler to lead the Proteas fightback on the opening day of the second Test match at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo on Friday.
SCOREBOARD: Sri Lanka v Proteas, 2nd Test
Maharaj finished the day with figures of 8//116 from 32 overs, bowled in two spells, and has the chance to match Hugh Tayfield in taking 9 wickets in an innings when Sri Lanka resume on the second day on 277/9.
The previous best by a South African spinner on the sub-continent was Paul Adams 7/128 against Pakistan at Lahore in 2003. The previous best by any South African bowler against Sri Lanka anywhere was Marchant de Lange’s 7/81.
There is absolutely no doubt that Maharaj is South Africa’s best spinner of the modern era and it is an interesting comparison that he has now taken 86 wickets halfway through his 22nd Test match which compares well with Tayfield, the undoubted star of the previous era, who reached his 100 in the same number of matches.
The enormity of Maharaj’s performance came against the background of Sri Lanka having a century opening stand before the spinner made his first breakthrough.
There was a remarkable comparison between the first day here and the first day in the previous game in Galle when the Proteas, again having lost the toss, bowled Sri Lanka out for 287.
There are, however, two important differences. In the first place the outfield here is much quicker than it was on the first day in Galle and in the second the Proteas attack, consisting of three seamers and just a solitary specialist spinner, did not let the home side get away through their lower order this time.
Sri Lanka had an opening stand of 116 between Dimuth Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka but thereafter the Proteas took 8/161 with the first three batsmen getting half-centuries and nobody else more than 22. With Maharaj leading the way they took 3/75 in the second session and 6/109 in the third.
The pitch also has more pace and bounce than its counterpart in Galle which could also help the Proteas batsmen as they go about their business.
But as far as the first day was concerned it belonged to Maharaj who has now bagged four five-wicket hauls in his Test career and has taken 12 wickets to date in his first 3 innings on the sub-continent to make him South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in the series by some distance.
The Proteas also put in a much improved fielding performance with both Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock taking outstanding catches and generally they look far more Test match ready than they did in Galle.