Sri Lanka snatch victory from Proteas
For much of this afternoon, the spectators who had crowded into Galle International Stadium sat quietly on as their side drifted towards an apparently inevitable defeat. Then at 4:24 Gary Kirsten tried to sweep Mutiah Muralitharan and was bowled. Suddenly the band started banging their drums with hope, the Sri Lankan flags begun to wave and the spectators awoke from their slumber.
One hour later the same spectators where cheering their team into their dressing room after Sri Lanka had won the match by 37 runs after a dramatic South African collapse in which 10 wickets had fallen for just 62 runs.
The mood of the crowd was mirrored by that of the players who had appeared to have given up hope of winning the match during a 150 run opening stand between Gary Kirsten (59) and Andrew Hall (81). The dismissal of Gary Kirsten though galvanised the team, shook them from their gloom and as the wickets fell steadily, they couldn't hide their undulated joy.
Prior to the match the Sri Lankan's had opted for three spinners in the expectation that the ball would turn in the second innings. It was a tactic that paid off as the spinners ran through the South African batting.
Kirsten's dismissal was promptly followed three overs later by that of his opening partner. Andrew Hall, in just his third one-day international, had stepped into the shoes of Herschelle Gibbs with aplomb, and had dominated the Sri Lankan spinners, hitting them from three sixes, but was caught and bowled by Upul Chandana.
With the experienced Jacques Kallis (11) and Darrel Cullinan (14) at the crease there was no need for panic but Kallis tried to launch Dharmasena over mid-wicket and was caught by Chandana on the boundary. Suddenly the players and the crowd started to sense the possibility of a victory and the atmosphere in the ground became electric. They believed they were going to win when Jonty Rhodes (0) was caught behind off his very first delivery
The run rate now begun to increase rapidly and Darrel Cullinan (14) was forced into taking the aerial route against Chandana but only succeeded in hitting the ball straight down the gullet of a grateful T.M. Dilshan on the mid-wicket boundary.
Sri Lanka became unstoppable. Mark Boucher (2) and Lance Klusner (20), the Proteas only hope, were both run out by Sanath Jayasuriya. Pollock (5) was caught by Jayawardene, Nico Boje (1) was bowled by Mutiah Muralithran and Ntini was run out to end the match.
Whilst Upul Chandana's four wickets may have won the match at the end, he was only able to do so thanks to batted deeds of Sri Lanka's youngsters: Avishka Gunawardena (47), Russel Arnold (59) and Kumar Sanagakkara (85).
Put into bat, Sri Lanka quickly lost three wickets, including those of Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Attapattu and Mahela Jayawardene. The senior players gone, Avishka Gunawardena and Kumar Sanagakkara counter attacked in dramatic fashion. Sanagakkara may have been lucky to survive an LBW appeal in his first over and Avishka may have played and missed early on with alarming frequency but this in no way belittles their performance.
Like Steve Waugh has done on so many past occasions, they took a calculated risk and in the space of a few overs had wrestled the initiative away from South Africa. They were helped in the cause by some wayward bowling. Mornantau Hayaward's first four overs cost 40 runs and South Africa bowled a staggering total of 24 wides.
Whilst the Russel Arnold and Avishka Gunawardena may have batted well, it was Kumar Sangakkara who caught the eye. Unfazed by the pressure of the occasion the 22-year-old from Kandy played with a maturity far beyond his years and experience. He played shots all round the wicket, placed the ball quite expertly and was justly awarded the man of the match award. Unfortunately he was stupidly run-out within reach of a well deserved century.
Dav Whatmore was clearly impressed: "To win a man of the match award and come into bat in that situation and play the way that he did in his first one-day international was extremely impressive. The way that he performed was like a veteran and his future looks very rosy."
South Africa were clearly disappointed, so much so that they felt the need to hide inside their dressing room during the presentations. Nevertheless they surely can't be expected to perform at their best straight after a two-month lay off.
Speaking afterwards Shaun Pollock said: "The openers set a great platform for us to get that score and we let them down. We only had to go at five runs an over in the last 20 overs. It just goes to show that the conditions are more difficult than you think. As a fresh batter its quite difficult to get going."
"I am not looking to make excuses but we definitely need more time in the middle. We have only played one practice game and the pressures in a practice game and an international one are very different. You realise that the heat is on when you get out here in an international game."
South Africa now travel to Colombo where they take on Pakistan at Premadasa Stadium on Saturday.