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