South Africa starting to gel dangerously
Half a Test match. These days when South Africa win a Test match, that's all the time they need. For the second time this summer, they have wrapped up victory in little over seven sessions, pushing the match in fast-forward and earning themselves some extra time off over the holiday season.
Resounding with the bat, forceful with the ball and comprehensive all-round, South Africa were able to stamp their authority over their opposition early on. Out of 10, they are probably an eight, with the only worries being the back-up bowlers and a few of the batsmen, but as an all-round unit, they are starting to gell in dangerous fashion.
"Today was probably the best standard we produced," Graeme Smith said. "Even though we bowled Australia out for 47, I thought today was really good. "
It was not just a performance of value because South Africa cleaned Sri Lanka up but because they did so having maximised the ability to exploit conditions and sharpened their killer instinct. Previously, South Africa may have laboured trying to dislodge the tail or even been satisfied with a smaller lead. Smith said "we would have been happy with a 100-run lead on this surface but to get 200 and a bit ahead really allowed us to attack with the ball." At the end of the second day's play, AB de Villiers was certain that South Africa had a big enough lead, at the end of the match, they proved him right.
Vernon Philander is already being hyped up as the find of the season after his role in securing the victory. At international level, he may well be, but those who have watched him from his days as an cheeky newbie in 2007, to his toil on the first-class scene since then, will not be surprised by the performances he has put in. Words like skilful and canny have been used to describe him but another couple that can be added to those are disciplined and aggressive.
He stole the limelight off Dale Steyn, which gave the world's top-ranked bowler the time he needs to hit top gear. He covered for an under-firing Morne Morkel, who Smith said was "a bit rusty" and would get better the more he bowled. Philander's penetrative performance also meant the match was over before Imran Tahir could even come into play.
In his three Tests so far, the legspinner has had to play on seamer-friendly pitches and although he has managed to squeeze out some wickets, he has had to do so despite the conditions. Still, Smith believes there is a place for Tahir in the Test squad and that the time will soon come for him to play a part.
"I don't think it's been the easiest wickets for Imran to start his Test career on. The wickets have seamed a lot and he has not really had to play a frontline role for us," Smith said. "But, this Test match, he went looking for work with the bat and in the field and the confidence and enthusiasm that he showed is always exciting to have. We know what skills he has and I'm sure somewhere in this series, the skill will have to come to the fore." Tahir scored a run-a-ball 29 and showed a marked improvement in the other two aspects of his game. Cape Town will likely provide him with his best chance to impress.
Jacques Kallis also showed a more committed approach to bowling, which was absent from his game against Australia. He regularly got up to over 140kph and has taken his place as the containing seamer. "I don't know if he has got too many more 147 kph spells in his body but it's always great to see him like that. It's terrific the amount of work he is putting into the bowling," Smith said. As a whole, South Africa's attack blended their aggression with strangulation and Smith summed it up well when he said "there weren't too may free deliveries out there".
With the bat, it was particularly pleasing to see Mark Boucher's 65 and the way he combined with the tail to form key partnerships at the end of the innings. At the start of the series, Boucher was facing pressure, with talk about his successor swirling. He was able to ignore the debate and humble enough to seek help. "Mark has played enough games to know when he is not performing to a standard," Smith said. "I think it's more a technical thing, he has put in some work on his batting and if you look at the way he played against Australia, he changed a few things technically."
South Africa will take five days off before regrouping next Friday in Durban. They will allow their bodies to rest but not their minds and the primary objective when they get to the coast will be to keep the lid on Sri Lanka. "Today was quite emphatic, our intensity was great," Smith said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent