Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, Colombo, 1st day August 4, 2006

SA cope with the Murali juggernaut

Murali's prolific form with the ball continued on his home turf © Getty Images

Another match, another five-wicket haul. Muttiah Muralitharan's prolific form with the ball continued at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium, his home turf. After ten-wicket hauls in his last three matches as Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and the Sinhalese Sports Club, he will now have an excellent opportunity to equal his own world record for four successive ten-fors in the second innings, a feat he last achieved back in 2001/02.

Muralitharan also reached another landmark, scalping his 650th wicket, but he has long since stopped celebrating such piffling mid-century milestones. As Makhaya Ntini had a last-over rush of blood, driving the ball to mid off, Muralitharan just smiled, popped on his cap and strode off the field for a revitalising ice bath and fruit juice. Tomorrow he'll hope to spend the day with his feet-up in the dressing room watching his batters doing some spadework of their own.

South Africa, though, despite allowing Murali to claim his 55th five-wicket haul - a testament to Murali's Bradman-like quality with the ball - will be quite pleased with the manner in which they handled his off breaks. In contrast to the first innings at the Sinhalese Sports Club, where they allowed him to dictate terms with a timid display, here they adopted a positive approach, knocking him out of his normal parsimonious groove as he conceded 128 runs in 33.5 overs.

The new bold intent was shown off right from the start by Hashim Amla and was continued by AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince and Shaun Pollock, all of whom played crucial hands that have kept South Africa right in the game. Through quick use of the feet and with a heavy reliance on the sweep, they kept the runs flowing throughout the afternoon, forcing Murali and Sri Lanka onto the defensive for the first time in the series.

The pitch is so flat and the outfield so fast that Sri Lanka can comfortably claim to be in the driving seat, but South Africa's effort today has given their bowlers, especially the new ball bowlers, something to work with. It was a below-par performance in the conditions but Prince hoped afterwards that it will at least be "competitive". South Africa's use of the new ball will be crucial. The mornings are best for bowling at the Saravanamuttu and, as Lasith Malinga showed with a fiery opening spell, this pitch is offering a little more pace and bounce than the SSC featherbed. Sri Lanka must tread carefully.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent