South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Durban, 3rd day December 28, 2011

Serene Sangakkara leads Sri Lankan dominance

Sri Lanka's dominance on the third day was not brutal but calm and smooth. No one exemplified this more than Kumar Sangakkara

When a match is put so far beyond the opposition that they will have to break world records to win it, it implies they have suffered ruthless domination. South Africa will need to achieve the highest successful fourth-innings run chase to beat Sri Lanka in Durban but they were not set the task in brutal fashion. Sri Lanka gently prised the game away, going about their business in serene style.

Runs rolled off bats seamlessly as Kumar Sangakkara brought up his first century on South African soil, Thilan Samaraweera contributed a crucial 43 and Dinesh Chandimal chalked up the second half-century of his debut Test. All three were dismissed by the end of the third day's play but their efforts frustrated South Africa's bowlers and exploited their inability to threaten once the advantage was no longer in their favour.

Overnight and early morning rain saw play start under pregnant clouds with the air hanging thick with humidity. With not a shred of sunlight, facing Morne Morkel was going to be a frightening task. Sangakkara proved it was, when he nicked him after four balls. Had Mark Boucher or Graeme Smith held on the script would have been written in a different language.

One mistake was all it took for Sangakkara to turn around his three failures with the bat so far this series. He did so with the finesse and class that makes him a worthy world No. 1. He hung back while Tharanga Paranavitana negotiated Morkel and saw off early assaults from Dale Steyn and Marchant de Lange. He saw Paranavitana fall victim to Morkel's tight line outside off and then welcomed Mahela Jayawardene to the crease.

Chandimal's boundaries came with force but he also sprinkled his innings with touches of finesse - tucks on the leg side and deft touches to cover. Sangakkara was softer, as is his nature, but the combined efforts were sublime to watch.

The pair, great friends and great team-mates, only managed a partnership of 24, which in the context of the match is just about meaningless. They were together for 8.3 overs and almost all of their runs were scored without anyone taking much notice. But something about the Sri Lankan effort changed with those two stalwarts at the crease.

An unusual sense of calm filtered onto the field from the moment Jayawardene flicked Morkel off his pads, as disdainfully as if it were a fly, to the midwicket boundary. Sangakkara smashed the ball through the gully area and Jayawardene did the same, if more elegantly, to take the lead past 200. The eight singles they ran together were ambled, almost as though they existed in their own twilight zone. For the time the two were together, it seemed nothing could go wrong.

Of course, something did go wrong when Jayawardene shouldered arms to a de Lange delivery that struck him above the roll. He was given out and stayed out on review. From there, everything could so easily have unravelled in dramatic fashion for Sri Lanka but Sangakkara ensured it didn't.

Before lunch, he received and accepted freebies, like an overpitched Jacques Kallis delivery that he could work off his pads as well as the wide de Lange ball that begged to be upper cut. After lunch, the gifts rained. South Africa persisted in sending down poorly-directed short balls which had no effect. When they did change their line, they got it wrong and went too full or too far down leg. Steyn didn't get much swing, Morkel's bounce was tame, de Lange's inexperience stuck out and Imran Tahir was disappointing in his inability to find the same turn Rangana Herath did.

With that sort of limp attack in front of them, Sri Lanka could have been more vicious. Instead, they played their shots as they were writing in calligraphy, with delightful loops and sways put there merely for decoration, like icing on a cake. They used timing and placement instead of smashing and slapping to build a lead that stands on a foundation that was both beautiful and strong.

When Samaraweera was bowled by a delivery he failed to read, the flamboyant Chandimal came to the crease. It is said that he has the same swagger as Sri Lankans of old, who play their cricket in a flashy, fiery style. He started that way, with a slog-sweep through deep square leg, a slash over the slips and a pulverising pull. His boundaries came with force but he also saw the value in sprinkling his innings with touches of finesse - tucks on the leg side and deft touches to cover.

Sangakkara was softer, as is his nature, but the combined efforts were sublime to watch. Together, they took Sri Lanka to a position that should ensure they do not go gently into that good night, however smoothly they got there.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 16:25 GMT

    Go Sir Lanka go, fight it out in the Newlands. SL batters, do the Thilan and Sanga way put on 300+ in the first knock, you are safe and in for a treat of your lives. Kepler, what says you?

  • S on December 29, 2011, 15:35 GMT

    Where is the comments from Donald and Wessels? What do they have to say? Did SL beat a SA A team?

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 13:44 GMT

    @prksinghg This is just a soft correction. PJ is the best wicket keeper of the current crop in SL . He may be probably the second best among test cricketers. Still, the best ever test wicketkeeper SL produced was without any doubt MAHESH GOONATHILAKE the flashy keeper from Kandy. Unfortuantely he played many matches prior to the test status. He played in the inagural test. He was so qucik I could remember in the first test English gianst like Botham Gower made sure that they did not make a move off the crease. Unfortunately he embarked on dreaded SA rebel tour. But according to the historains the best ever wicket keeper produced by SL was BEN NAVARATNE. He was tagged as the BEST KEEPER IN ASIA in 1960s. Mind you SL was not palying tests while IND and PAK did @ the time.

  • Shantanu on December 29, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    I havent checked up statsguru but Sangakkara seems to have very good record overseas in 3rd/4th innings. I remember a big hundred in Australia, one recently in England and now in SA. He is definitely one of the most underrated player of his times. Is he also fastest to 9000 runs in tests ?

  • stuart on December 29, 2011, 11:30 GMT

    Sanga has always been a good player.he shows some real class and even more so as a human being.Pure class as an individual

  • ridma on December 29, 2011, 11:03 GMT

    adding to my previous comment shaminda eranda cannot consider as a replacement to dilhara. he might be an asset for the future, but still he needs lot to prove.

  • ridma on December 29, 2011, 10:22 GMT

    @Ahamed Afker hi Ahmad i would like to remind you dilhara is a definite match winner and a bowler who can change the game within a couple of overs. Dont look at his statistics.because it does not explain how many crucial wickets he has taken which have changed the flow of the game. he is not good with the new ball and does not fit for a long spell. But he has an ability to unsettle a well established batsman and he has done it many times. it is a duty of the captain to make use of his more wisely. rather than giving him a long spell he should get called for short spells maximum with two overs. in the recent pass he hasnt make use of his well disguised slow ball and reverse swing ball.i think their coach should pay attention to this.anyway taking a wicket of an established batsman is lot more harder than getting a wicket of a new batsmen. dilhara is a player who has done it many times and have the ability to do so. i think we cannot drop him unless we find an extremely good bowler.

  • ridma on December 29, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    sri lanka should try to cut off runs before the lunch and try to be more attacking after the lunch

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    If SL scores another 50 runs Sorry to SA, hopefully SL could win this match. same time some of our batsmen must correct their shot selection, Especially Dilshan & Mathews played very ugly & needless shots, Mahela too failed ,lucky Sanga's Catch dropped, Paranavithana must drop due to his poor form and Upul must open the batting with Dilshan. Cheers SL.

  • Vinod on December 29, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    looks like WELCOME 2012 for Kumar. it was another interesting innings from him, making use of his opportunities. great display of batting from chandimal and thilan samaraweera. only a couple of good partnerships can prevent the loss to SA.

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