Umpire's blunder cruels Sri Lanka, baffles cricket legends
TOP-scorer Quinton de Kock admitted South Africa were "caught off guard" when Sri Lanka bowled them out for 235 on the first day of the first Test at Kingsmead on Wednesday, even after the tourists were cruelly denied a wicket.
Underdogs Sri Lanka, seemingly in disarray going into the match, reached 1-49 at the close to finish the day in a strong position.
Left-arm opening bowler Vishwa Fernando and right-arm seamer Kasun Rajitha, playing in their fourth and fifth Tests respectively, did the major damage. Fernando took 4-62 and Rajitha claimed 3-68.
But Fernando could have had another scalp if it wasn't for an odd oversight by umpire Aleem Dar.
Fernando had Dean Elgar caught behind for nought with his fourth ball and there were still no runs on the board two balls later when an lbw appeal against Hashim Amla was turned down by Dar, although replays showed he should have been given out.
By the time new captain Dimuth Karunaratne signalled for a review, the players were told they had taken too long - although it was shown afterwards they were three seconds inside the permitted 15 seconds for a request.
The commentators were stumped by the decision from Dar to cut the Sri Lankans off after 12 seconds instead of giving them the full 15 seconds to make a decision. Had they been allowed to challenge the call, Amla would have been sent packing.
West Indian fast bowling legend Michael Holding said: "The umpire made a mistake and they should have been given the opportunity to send it to the third umpire. I'm not absolutely sure why it wasn't.
"We know it wasn't beyond 15 seconds."
Also causing controversy was the suggestion Dar didn't tell the tourists when 10 seconds had elapsed. The timer starts from the moment the ball is deemed dead - not from the moment the appeal starts - and officials are supposed to give the players a warning after 10 seconds so they know they don't have much longer to make a decision.
Holding queried why such a warning wasn't given.
"We did not see that warning of 10 seconds happening at all so I'm not sure what went wrong with that entire aspect of the review system as well," he said.
"That did not happen unless Aleem Dar has become a ventriloquist. His lips certainly never moved."
Fellow commentator Mike Haysman speculated there may have been some miscommunication between Dar and third umpire Ian Gould.
"Maybe there was a misinterpretation about Ian Gould telling Aleem Dar, 'That's 10 seconds,' because there should be that sort of relay of information to the captain for starters," Haysman said.
South African legend Shaun Pollock added: "How the umpire didn't put the finger up in the first place would have been the issue that we (he and Holding) would have both had. That was stone dead, Mikey! You've got to be giving those ones, surely.
"They (Sri Lanka) can't afford to have those kind of things not go their way if they want to compete.
"I can't understand why (it was rejected)."
The lapse proved inexpensive, however, as Amla was caught at second slip off Lakmal for three before Fernando produced the ball of the day to bowl Markram for 11.
Despite the setback, Sri Lanka's seamers had a profitable day and de Kock said his team was taken aback by the performances of the tourists' inexperienced attack.
"We were a bit unaware of the new guys. I think they caught us off guard," said De Kock, who made 80.
"We had good game plans against (opening bowler) Suranga Lakmal but the two new guys were unseen before. They bowled really well, they didn't miss their lengths often and they made us work hard for what we got."
Asked what specific problems Fernando and Rajitha caused, De Kock said: "The angle of their bowling, the skills they had, their actions, the skiddiness, the bounce. They are two solid bowlers and they will give us trouble throughout the series, so we will just have to keep our eyes open for them."
Fernando got extravagant swing early in the day after Karunaratne won the toss and sent South Africa in, while Lakmal got steep bounce in an opening spell of 1-6 in seven overs.
Fernando arguably owed his place in the team to the fact that three of Sri Lanka's leading fast bowlers were missing because of injury.
But he produced a superb opening spell, having Elgar caught behind and bowling Aiden Markram with a ball that swung back into the stumps.
Fernando said he enjoyed bowling in South African conditions compared to those in Sri Lanka, where he said fast bowlers tended to struggle on unhelpful pitches.
"The ball was swinging in the morning," he said.
South Africa were 3-17 when Markram was dismissed. Temba Bavuma and Faf du Plessis put on 72 for the fourth wicket before Du Plessis was caught down the leg side off Rajitha for 35.
Bavuma looked the most assured of the South African batsmen but was run out for 47 off 68 balls, with seven fours, when a straight drive by de Kock ricocheted off bowler Fernando's boot into the stumps at the bowler's end.
De Kock, batting at number six because South Africa picked five specialist bowlers, found himself batting with the tail. He hit 80 off 94 balls before he was last man out.
Sri Lanka lost Lahiru Thirimanne, caught behind off Dale Steyn for nought, but Karunaratne batted confidently to be 28 not out at the close, while new cap Oshada Fernando went on the attack when du Plessis turned to spin bowling as the light faded to finish on 17 not out.
Sri Lanka have lost six of their most recent seven Tests and were disrupted by injuries and several changes in personnel, including the dropping of regular captain Dinesh Chandimal.