South Africa opener Dean Elgar scored a fine century, but Sri Lanka fought back in the final session as both teams shared the honours on the opening day of the first Test at the Galle International Cricket stadium on Wednesday.
The Proteas, who were looking solid at 195 for one, ended day one on 268 for five with Quinton de Kock (17 not out) and nightwatchman Dale Steyn (0 not out) at the crease.
In his first Test as captain, Hashim Amla elected to bat first and his decision was justified when Elgar and Alviro Petersen (34) stitched a 70-run partnership for the opening wicket.
Elgar, in only his third Test, played positively for his 187-ball 103 and also made a 125-run stand with Faf du Plessis for the second wicket. Du Plessis also looked solid and used his footwork quite well against Rangana Herath to keep him at bay.
Both Du Plessis and Elgar negotiated the reverse swing late in the second session, but the Islanders finally dismissed the latter post-tea.
"The Sri Lankan seamers are very good exponents of their own conditions. The minute the ball started getting soft, they started changing their paces and bowling the odd cutter," Elgar said. "It was almost like one-day disciplines."
After Elgar's dismissal, the Islanders tightened the screws and dismissed du Plessis (80), skipper Amla (11) and AB de Villiers (21) in quick succession. De Villiers fell on the penultimate over of the day while playing a loose drive off Suranga Lakmal.
"With us losing two quick ones towards the end, maybe the mark shifted a bit but I'd still like to us push as close as possible to that mark," Elgar insisted. "We would have loved to have been one wicket down, but such is the nature of the beast. We've got to edge closer to that mark and we know its' going to be a tough day tomorrow but we've still got batsman in hand."
Lakmal and Dilruwan Perera finished with a couple of wickets, while Herath chipped in with one. Seamer Shaminda Eranga only bowled nine overs as he was forced to leave the field after he split the webbing of his right hand while fielding.
"Eranga had eight stitches inserted in the webbing of his right hand and was unable to take the field," Sri Lanka manager Michael de Zoysa said on Wednesday. "We will monitor his progress and see whether he will be able to bowl tomorrow."
Lineups: Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga, Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath, Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal
South Africa: Hashim Amla (capt), Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir and Quinton de Kock.
Where to Watch Live
The second day of the first Test is scheduled for 10:00 am local (10:00 am IST, 4:30 am GMT) start with live coverage on Ten Cricket and Ten HD in India. Catch ball-by-ball update of the match online HERE. Catch the action live on TV on Ten Sports in Sri Lanka, while viewers can also live stream the action HERE.