South Africa seamer Wiaan Mulder, recalled for the first time since his first Test appearance – also against Sri Lanka, almost two years ago – bowled his side back into contention with two quick wickets in the final session.
Having won the toss and chosen to bat, Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne oversaw a brisk start to his side’s innings, rattling up four boundaries in his knock of 22 from 20 balls.
Although the skipper chopped on a Lungi Ngidi delivery that came back into him, that did nothing to slow the run-rate, with Kusal Perera (16) and Kusal Mendis (12) raising the 50 inside the ninth over. They were soon pegged back by the Proteas’ change bowlers as Mendis miscued a pull shot off Anrich Nortje to mid-on before Mulder struck in his first over, with Perera caught behind slashing outside off stump.
However, the fourth-wicket pair batted sensibly to take Sri Lanka to lunch, with Dhananjaya outscoring the dogged Chandimal as he moved on to his half-century in the afternoon with a sweetly-struck cover boundary off Mulder.
Dhananjaya looked keen to accelerate, surviving a leg before appeal against Keshav Maharaj on umpire’s call and celebrating his escape by hitting the spinner’s next ball over the top for the first six of the innings.
A century seemed on the cards – but, having pushed Lutho Sipamla for a straightforward single on the offside, Dhananjaya pulled up as he reached the non-striker’s end, wincing in pain, and had to be helped from the field. Sipamla picked up his first Test wicket when fellow debutant Wanindu Hasaranga played on after a belligerent cameo of 18, but Dasun Shanaka (25 not out) steered Sri Lanka safely to the close.