AB de Villiers in action during his innings. (AP Photo)
Centurion: AB de Villiers fell for 99 to a dubious catch but still helped South Africa to 389-9 and a commanding 209-run lead over Sri Lanka in the first Test on Friday.
De Villiers walked off one short of a 13th Test century after asking substitute fielder Dimuth Karunaratne if his low catch off Thisara Perera — which looked like it might have hit the ground — was good.
But, despite his personal disappointment, De Villiers' third straight half-century ensured South Africa was in complete control of the series opener at stumps on the second day at SuperSport Park.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for 180 on Thursday and their bowlers were struggling by the close of play on Friday after De Villiers shared a 97-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Ashwell Prince (39) and South Africa eventually broke free.
A 39-run last-wicket stand between Mark Boucher, who was 49 not out, and Imran Tahir (24 not out) then rammed home South Africa's advantage in the last hour of play as Sri Lanka's attack fell away after making inroads earlier in the day.
"I can think of a few occasions where they could have picked up a few vital wickets," De Villiers said. "We did really well today and we are in a very dominant position at the moment ... I'm sure we'll shine tomorrow."
Perera had 3-114 and took two early wickets as the tourists reduced South Africa to 173-5 before De Villiers and Prince came together and took the game away from the tourists.
Left-armer Chanaka Welegedara returned 2-87, but frontline seamer Dilhara Fernando struggled and was wicketless on the second day after picking up Graeme Smith and breaking South Africa's 88-run opening partnership late on Day 1.
Captain Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews had a wicket each, and Sri Lanka's problems were compounded when allrounder Mathews went for a scan after play on a suspected groin strain.
"The first half of today, before lunch, was much better than the second half. Let's put it that way," Sri Lanka batting coach Marvan Atapattu said.
De Villiers and Prince put on 84 before tea in a valuable sixth-wicket partnership as the match swung back toward the Proteas, who dominated on Day 1 but were forced to work hard on a lively pitch in Centurion on Friday morning.
With South Africa 90-1 overnight, nightwatchman Dale Steyn was run out in the second over of the day and Hashim Amla (18) and opener Jacques Rudolph (44) were removed in an impressive, probing morning spell by Perera.
Jacques Kallis hit five fours in a commanding start, but was then struck hard on the helmet as he ducked into a delivery from Fernando (1-115) just before lunch and — clearly shaken — was dismissed soon after the break for 31.
Prince eventually fell to Mathews (1-13) to break the crucial stand with De Villiers, but at 270-6, South Africa had re-established their advantage in the first of three Tests after firing out Sri Lanka cheaply on a bouncy, seaming pitch on Day 1.
De Villiers hit 12 fours to continue his strong run of form after he made 64 and 73 in South Africa's last Test, against Australia at Johannesburg last month.
He drove straight down the ground and to the boundary to move to 99 but tried to cut Perera's next ball away on the off side and was caught low down by Karunaratne, who snapped up the ball at backward point.
De Villiers preferred not to send the catch to a video review, but rather took Karunaratne's word and headed off at his home ground. Television replays showed some doubt over the catch, although the young fielder was still right to claim the 50-50 chance.
"It's history now," De Villiers said. "If he said he caught it, that's it."
After De Villiers departed, Boucher moved to the brink of just his second half-century in 18 months with six boundaries.
No. 11 Tahir had four boundaries as South Africa added late runs and pushed toward 400 and an ominous lead, leaving Sri Lanka to bat to save the match on Saturday.
"Obviously South Africa is one of the best bowling teams in the world. It's going to be a tough task, no doubt," Atapattu said. "Add to that the wicket is not the best batting wicket that you get. It's going to be a huge challenge."