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Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Colombo, 2nd day

No respite for the South Africans

The Verdict by Charlie Austin

July 28, 2006

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Mahela Jayawardene: one half of an exhausting stand on day two © Getty Images
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Television, cricket's big boss, slumped to newfound depths of cruelty at the close of the second day, forcing Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene into an immediate interview after a never-ending eight-hour partnership in stifling temperatures. Fortunately, considering children may have been watching, they didn't stoop to arm-twisting Ashwell Prince for a quick sound bite as South Africa's leg-weary players loped slowly off the field to the sanctuary of their dressing room.

Remarkably, both Jayawardene and Sangakkara, two close buddies who love batting together, looked perky and fresh after what is now the second highest partnership in the game's history, a testament to their good manners in front of microphones and their fitness after a gruelling day. Jayawardene said they were simply "taking it session-by-session and trying to keep South Africa down" while Sangakkara candidly admitted that he "liked batting a lot". At the age of 28, with four double hundreds in the bag, few will argue with that, including poor Tillakaratne Dilshan, the next man in, who drank so many cups of tea in the dressing room that he's now destined for a sleepless night.

But Sangakkara and Jayawardene's double act was a superlative performance. The pitch, normally at its best for batting on day two at the Sinhaelese Sports Club, was as flat as a roti but the duo exploited that ruthlessly with a faultless exhibition of high class batting. Their unblinking concentration allowed for near-perfect shot selection and the execution of the strokes was of the highest quality, the ball rarely missing the sweetest middle of their bats. Their batting was clinical but also relaxed and elegant. The closest South Africa came to a breakthrough was in the final over of the day when an exhausted Mark Boucher failed to reach down to a thin Sangakkara edge off Nicky Boje.

Boje was South Africa's best bowler by a distance and he was handed a heavy workload, finishing with 0 for 131 from 35 overs. But on a luckier day, as the odd ball spun sharply out of the bowlers' footmarks, he'd have picked up two or three. For much of the time he operated in defensive mode, bowling over the wicket into the rough. This posed the most acute problems for Jayawardene who was forced to score off deliveries pitched outside leg. Many would have just padded Boje away but Jayawardene's confidence is now sky-high and he couldn't resist taking the odd risk, dancing down the pitch with the footwork of a ballet dancer and on two occasions reverse sweeping in less elegant fashion.

Prince, given the hardest of baptisms as captain, was left with few other options after the pair had survived the first hour without alarm. The hoped-for lateral movement never materialised and the rusty-looking seamers rarely threatened. Andre Nel, his face like a thundercloud, and Dale Steyn conceded five runs per over throughout and Makhaya Ntini, although economical, was a shadow of his menacing best. Shaun Pollock, who looked on fresh-faced from the team's balcony, could have been forgiven for secretly thanking his newest born for sparing him a workhorse role.

With hindsight, it was foolish for South Africa to play just one first-class match as preparation after a ten-week holiday. The players may well be physically fit - which is just as well considering the amount of ball-chasing in the first two days of the series - but to the naked eye the bowlers have been straining for rhythm, a comfort that only time in the middle can be provide. Why their administrators settled for just the one game is unclear but if South Africa are crushed, some blame must be shared with the pen-pushers back home.

The question now is just how long will Sri Lanka go and along the way what more records will tumble? If Sangakkara and Jayawardene do settle then the world record stand of 576 between Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama set back in 1997 is just one session away from being broken. More importantly, in terms of the match, Sri Lanka will probably bat for at least one-and-a-half sessions more, to exhaust South Africa's players and wait for this docile pitch to start breaking up.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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Players/Officials: Nicky Boje | Mahela Jayawardene
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