PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) Sri Lanka's advantage disappeared rapidly in the first test against South Africa on Tuesday as it struggled to 181-7 at stumps on Day 2, still 105 runs behind the Proteas' mediocre 286.
Sri Lanka had wrapped up South Africa's first innings swiftly in the morning, taking four wickets for 19 runs in less than 10 overs, with Suranga Lakmal claiming a first career five-wicket haul.
But the batsmen didn't follow the lead of their bowlers as Sri Lanka tottered on 22-3 before captain Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva prevented a complete collapse. Mathews made 39 and Chandimal 28, while De Silva was 43 not out when bad light resulted in an early end to play at St. George's Park.
Sri Lanka, emboldened by its bowling performance at the start of the three-test series, quickly found itself under pressure again in a country where it's never won a series.
''It's a tough wicket to bat on but we did some mistakes, gave a couple of wickets away,'' Chandimal said.
Profiting from the same consistent seam movement on the green Port Elizabeth pitch that Lakmal used to fine effect, Vernon Philander took 3-35 and Kyle Abbott 2-49 in South Africa's fightback in the field.
They set up the chance for South Africa to also take a crucial first-innings lead, an unlikely scenario when the Proteas lost seven wickets for 73 late Monday and early Tuesday. Rain is forecast for early Wednesday, too, maybe making the green strip a little greener, and a little tougher for the batters.
''I think every run's going to be vital here,'' said Philander.
Abbott got the ball rolling for South Africa when he bowled Dimuth Karunaratne for 5 off an inside edge. Kusal Perera (7), Kusal Mendis (0) and Kaushal Silva (16) also all went cheaply, leaving the experienced Mathews and Chandimal to prop up Sri Lanka for a little while.
They had to fight. Mathews was hit a painful blow on the forearm by a short-pitched ball by Philander, and Chandimal survived two chances - an early lbw that looked out but which South Africa couldn't challenge because it was out of DRS reviews, and also a dropped catch by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
De Silva's unbeaten 43 was stubborn, and vital for Sri Lanka, with the youngster hitting five fours and holding his ground as the South African bowlers sought the wicket of Sri Lanka's last recognized batsman.
It was so different at the start of the day as Sri Lankan seamer Lakmal completed his maiden five-for, with his 5-63 and slick display of seam bowling helping to quickly wrap up the South African innings.
Lakmal took his fifth when Keshav Maharaj edged behind to wicketkeeper Chandimal 5 + overs into the day. It made Lakmal only the third Sri Lankan seam bowler after Chanaka Welegedara (in 2011) and Dilhara Fernando (in 2000) to take five wickets in an innings in a test in South Africa.