As Day 2 of the 1st Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa concluded, its safe to assume that Sri Lanka has taken complete control of the proceedings. Chasing the hosts' first innings score of 287, South Africa was dismantled for 126, their lowest ever total in the island nation. Sri Lanka has replied with 111 for 4 on the closing of play on Day 2, and now have a lead of 272 runs with 6 wickets remaining.
Let us take a look at some of the major talking points from the day's play.
#1. Total Domination of spin.
It is, in fact, the spinners that have established control over the game for Sri Lanka. The abundance of spin skills among Sri Lankan players and the corresponding absence in the South African squad, has made and marred the game for their respective sides. It was the spin trio of Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan that bagged seven out of ten Proteas wickets. As Sri Lanka came back for their second innings, they lost their first three wickets to Keshav Maharaj, the lone spinner among visitors.
The turn is not virtually unplayable, but still, the substantial help that the spinners continue to dig from the pitch, makes it possible to predict that any total above 300 would be daunting for the South Africans to chase successfully.
#2. Lack of confidence and poor shot-selection
South African batsmen were visibly shaken by the spin for the major part of their innings, and that led to an enormous meltdown in their morale. It was pretty evident from the way the Proteas were batting, as they failed massively to score even in singles. All except one of South Africa's last eight innings in the subcontinent has ended with the side scoring less than 200, and the fear was visible this time around as well. Too much caution led to the players failing to score at all. Collapses of 6 for 51 and 4 for 11, which preceded and succeeded the 64-run seventh-wicket stand between Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander, highlights the problem.
This, when coupled with problems in batting technique, like the left-handers playing cross-batted at balls pitching into them from wide of off-stump, also resulted in bonuses for the Lankans in the form of wickets.
#3. A cautious approach to batting by Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans came out to bat second, with a 161-run-lead from their first innings. From the way they took their chances, it was evident that the hosts are playing with an accurate game-plan in mind. They are aware of the fact that any lead above 300 or so would get them past the finish line, and they set themselves to achieve that target patiently. While Karunaratne continued his good nick from the first innings, others tried to play around him. Gunathilaka settled for 17 off 65, while Angelo Matthews is unbeaten at just 14. Karunaratne's 60 meant that the team scored 111 for four wickets, and they are just 28 short of a 300-run lead.
Matthews, Silva, and Dickwella will continue on Day 3, and if they can prolong their run of patience for a long time and score around 60 - 70 runs more with six wickets remaining, South Africa could well be looking for a defeat. The lack of an efficient spinner will continue to haunt them.