December 30, 2000

Muralitharan takes 11 but South Africa have better of drawn first Test

In nine Test matches against South Africa Muttiah Muralitharan has taken five wickets in an innings or more eight time, including a double against South Africa in the drawn first Castle Lager/MTN Test match that ended at Kingsmead on Saturday.

South African opening bat and man of the match at Kingsmead Gary Kirsten, however, poses one question: "How many of those Tests have Sri Lanka won?" The answer is one. Kirsten makes a very good point.

For all Muralitharan's success against South Africa, it was always the home team who dominated this match and, but for the loss of the fourth day to the weather, probably would have won.

Muralitharan had a remarkable game, taking 11 for 161 and reaching 300 Test wickets in the process. For this achievement he was presented with an award by the Sri Lankan minister of tourism and sport, Lakshman Kiriella, at tea time on the last day.

But even then Sri Lanka were fighting to save a match dominated by South Africa. In the end a fifth-wicket stand worth 52 which took up 111 minutes between Russel Arnold and Tillekeratne Dilshan saved the game with the tourists, set 345 to win in 82 overs, ending on 149 for six with eight overs remaining when play was called off for bad light.

And that was just about the measure of South Africa's dominance. The home side gave wickets in the morning as they extended their lead, eventually declaring at 140 for seven. Muralitharan took six for 39, but the South Africans were taking chances, prepared to exchange their wickets for quick runs.

Shaun Pollock juggled with his batting order, bringing in himself at four and with Neil McKenzie, Lance Klusener and Daryll Cullinan going in at seven, eight and nine respectively.

You can argue with this, but Pollock's defence was that he wanted to send in the players happy to go after it - "The sloggers" - and give those who have to graft for their runs for a living a little protection.

Perhaps the declaration was delayed a little too long, but with the last day not going the full distance anyway, the debate became academic.

In the event, South Africa got rid of the Sri Lankan top order with Nicky Boje snapping up two, Mfuneko Ngam accounting for Sanath Jayasuriya and Makhaya Ntini bowling quite beautifully to eventually work out Mahela Jayawardene.

Then Arnold and Dilshan dug in and although Pollock eventually had Arnold caught miscuing a pull and Romesh Kaluwitharana caught soon afterwards at mid on, they had already done enough to frustrate the South Africans.

Arnold made 30 and Dilshan was not out on 28 at the end, but they batted for two hours and two-and-a-half hours respectively and they gave Sri Lanka the draw.

Jayasuriya praised Muralitharan afterwards. "All of Sri Lanka is proud of him," he said. "He is the only Sri Lanka who could do this."

He also felt that the Sri Lankan batsmen would be a little more confident going into the second Test at Newlands on January 2. This is a moot point. The South Africans will almost certainly field the same attack, but there is a possibility that Herschelle Gibbs, whose six-month ban ends with the New Year, will be brought in for Boeta Dippenaar.

Perhaps more importantly, South Africa will look for a faster pitch at Newlands than they have had in four home Tests this summer. Even Kirsten, who scored 180 at Kingsmead, was talking about looking for a pitch that would give the South Africa quicks a little more assistance.

Maybe the Newlands groundsman might come up with something a little more sporting for 2001.

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