Middle order lifts South Africa to 361
The day was clearly split into three parts: the first one belonged to Sri Lanka, as their seam attack, bolstered by Chaminda Vaas's return from injury, struck three times within the first hour. South Africa then hit back in the afternoon session, as Ashwell Prince (86) and AB de Villiers (95) combined in a magnificent 161-run stand for the fifth wicket, getting their runs at more than four an over and making even Muttiah Muralitharan look ordinary. That was too good to last, however, as Sri Lanka fought back in the final session, nailing six wickets, though Shaun Pollock's entertaining unbeaten 57 kept them in the field the entire day. Muralitharan finished with yet another five-for - the 55th of his Test career - but it cost him 128, with the runs coming at nearly four an over.
The conditions at the ground had a huge role to play in the kind of action on view: the pitch, while being a good batting strip, had more pace and bounce than the one in the first Test, helping the bowlers but also ensuring that the ball came on to the bat and facilitated strokeplay. The outfield was fast too, so that almost every time the batsmen pierced the gaps, the ball sped away to the fence.
Asked to bowl first after losing the toss, Sri Lanka got off to a sensational start: Vaas celebrated his return to the side with a second-ball dismissal of Herschelle Gibbs, trapping him in front with a typical delivery which swung back in after pitching on middle and leg. It was the 12th time Vaas nailed Gibbs in international matches - his three dismissals in Tests have all been for ducks, while in the nine ODI innings in which Vaas has dismissed him, he averages 3.11.
Andrew Hall was a walking wicket from the first delivery - he played and missed at six out of eight balls from Malinga, before finally edging the ninth to second slip. Jacques Rudolph left soon after, beaten for pace and movement by Malinga, and at 31 for 3, the innings was in danger of crumbling just like it had in the first innings of the first Test. Prince then began the recovery with Amla, who played with excellent poise and assurance for his 40, clipping the ball sweetly off his pads and defending solidly. The real resistance, though, started after Amla fell.
de Villiers, especially, was intent on taking charge from the moment he walked to the crease. His first scoring shot - off the second ball he faced - was a beautifully timed punch down the ground off Muralitharan, and that set the tone for what was an innings highlighted by superb footwork, crisp cuts and drives through the off side, and splendid shot-selection. His handling of Muralitharan was quite exceptional: before the series, he had bravely commented about how Muralitharan could be rattled by an attacking batsman, and here he walked the talk, either going down the pitch to smother the spin, or going right back and playing with the turn. He used the sweep shot to good effect too, and in all scored 31 from 51 balls off Muralitharan. The other bowlers were even easier to handle, with the listless Maharoof being repeatedly creamed for cuts and square-drives.
Prince started off more circumspectly, content to defend and nudge the singles, but gradually he opened out too, playing some rasping drives down the ground and through cover when the bowlers offered width. Muralitharan's threat was negated by some twinkle-toed footwork, which allowed him to either make room and drive through the off side, or work him off his legs for runs. He offered one chance, when on 69, driving through Sanath Jayasuriya's hands at gully, but other than that one lapse, the knock was quite blemishless.
With the score reading 231 for 4 at tea, South Africa were on the ascendancy, but things went pear-shaped after the break, as Prince went second ball after tea, edging a cut. de Villiers fell in the nineties for the fourth time in his brief career, unluckily given out when bat had only made contact with ground.
Muralitharan and Maharoof then made further inroads, before Pollock stamped his presence on the game. Back in the side after missing the first Test due to the birth of his second child, Pollock celebrated by carting the ball to all parts en route to an entertaining knock, hoicking Muralitharan over midwicket for six, and top-edging over the wicketkeeper for another. Makhaya Ntini gave him excellent support in a last-wicket stand that fetched 34 and frustrated Sri Lanka late in the evening. Ntini's dismissal in the last over of the day ensured, though, that Sri Lanka won't have to take the field again on the second morning.
Herschelle Gibbs lbw b Vaas 0 (0 for 1)
Pitched on middle and leg, straightened, and was heading for the stumps
Andrew Hall c Dilshan b Malinga 0 (4 for 2)
Drove loosely outside off, low catch to second slip
Jacques Rudolph b Malinga 13 (31 for 3)
Went for a drive, ball shaped in marginally and sneaked between bat and pad
Hashim Amla lbw b Muralitharan 40 (70 for 4)
Went back to a good-length ball which turned back sharply
Ashwell Prince c P Jayawardene b Muralitharan 86 (231 for 5)
Went for a cut and feathered a nick
AB de Villiers c P Jayawardene b Malinga 95 (256 for 6)
Drove at full-length ball, bat hit the ground but given out
Mark Boucher b Muralitharan 32 (273 for 7)
Paddle-swept with vertical bat and dragged the ball on to his stumps
Nicky Boje c Sangakkara b Maharoof 11 (307 for 8)
Square-drive away from the body straight to backward point
Dale Steyn c Jayasuriya b Muralitharan 6 (327 for 9)
Gloved a sweep to short fine leg
Mahkaya Ntini c Maharoof b Muralitharan 13 (361 all out)
Scooped a drive to cover
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo