Durban: South Africa's Marchant de Lange took 4-60 on debut on Monday as Sri Lanka lost two late wickets to go to stumps on 289-7 on Day One of the second Test at Kingsmead.
The 21-year-old fast bowler, who was a late call-up for injured newcomer Vernon Philander, had Thisara Perera caught at short leg for his fourth to end the day's play and slow Sri Lanka's momentum following a century stand from Dinesh Chandimal and Thilan Samaraweera (86 not out).
Morne Morkel (2-55) removed Sri Lanka's own debutant Chandimal for 58 in an important breakthrough eight overs from the close, ending a 111-run stand with veteran Samaraweera.
The Sri Lankan pair had lifted their team from 162-5 after three early wickets from the impressive De Lange, but South Africa's two late strikes dragged back the tourists on a good batting pitch in Durban.
Chandimal threatened to overshadow De Lange in both players' first Test, but fell to a poor shot, swiping at a short and wide delivery from Morkel and edging behind when Sri Lanka were 273-5.
Tailender Perera then fended a short delivery from De Lange to Hashim Amla in a close catching position in the final act of the opening day, giving De Lange a promising start and replicating some of the immediate success of Philander in the five-day format.
"I was quite nervous but I enjoyed the challenge," said De Lange. "He (Philander) actually told me just to stay calm and gave me good advice."
Despite the two late wickets, it was still a much-improved batting display from the Sri Lankans, who were bowled out for 180 and 150 in the first match to lose by an innings and 81 runs inside three days.
Samaraweera anchored Sri Lanka for his 28th Test half-century, hitting 10 fours and guiding the tourists from 84-3 when he arrived at the wicket. Partner Chandimal hit seven fours, lashing a square drive off De Lange to go to his debut 50 and give Sri Lanka real hope of fighting their way back in the three-match series after a heavy loss in Centurion.
"When you keep getting bowled out in the first innings for less than 200 ... there are areas we had to address," Sri Lanka coach Geoff Marsh said. "The guys worked hard on technique and the way they were approaching their innings and thinking out in the middle. Today was a good breakthrough for us."
Chandimal was one of a string of Sri Lankans to get themselves out after they were settled as captain Tillakaratne Dilshan (47), Mahela Jayawardene (31) and Angelo Mathews (30) also all fell to clumsy shots.
But the tourists still pushed toward 300 and shook off some of the poor batting form that has haunted them and contributed to a run of 15 Tests without a win stretching back to July 2010.
"Obviously you want them to go on. Once you get to 30 you should go on and get a big score, but the thing that I know is that they're focusing really hard ... and trying to get it right," Marsh said. "We've got ourselves up around 300, which you've got to be to be competitive in Test cricket."
De Lange had removed opener Tharanga Paranavitana (12) and top-ranked batsman Kumar Sangakkara (0) in his first three overs in Test cricket as he extracted just enough seam movement on a hard, flat deck in Durban.
The youngster had only replaced Philander 24 hours earlier after South Africa's impressive seamer was ruled out on the eve of the match with a ligament strain in his left knee.
Dilshan hit six fours in an attacking - and sometimes carefree - innings as he tried to play Sri Lanka out of their recent batting struggles. But he swept a full toss from legspinner Imran Tahir (1-87) straight to Morkel on the square leg boundary to begin the run of soft dismissals.
Jayawardene became the first Sri Lankan and just the ninth player to pass 10,000 Test runs, but he missed a full delivery from Morkel soon after lunch trying an expansive drive and lost his stumps.
De Lange added to his start with a one-handed reflex catch to dismiss Mathews, caught and bowled for 30, after the all-rounder mistimed a low full toss straight back to the bowler, ending a promising 45-run partnership with Samaraweera.
De Lange also just missed a catch off Samaraweera late in the second session in an action-packed start to his five-day career, having played just 14 first-class matches before his first Test.
Samaraweera and wicketkeeper-batsman Chandimal - who replaced Kaushal Silva - then combined for Sri Lanka's best partnership of the series before Chandimal's slip exposed the tail and gave the Proteas a late boost.
"I think we would have taken that at the beginning of the day. It's a good Test wicket," said South Africa all-rounder Jacques Kallis, before praising the contribution of De Lange.
"He's done well. To start off on the button from ball one. Even when he started playing first-class cricket he seems to have taken it like a duck to water," Kallis said. "He's bowled as well as anyone could on that wicket today."