Sri Lanka find their self-belief
For three consecutive innings, Kumar Sangakkara was dismissed by good, wicket-taking deliveries. Unlike some of his team-mates or even his opposition, Sangakkara did not spend enough time at the crease to play a poor shot. And it looked like he would not get that chance today either.
Another superb delivery, a tempting one outside the off stump, induced a poke and Sangakkara should have been out for three. Instead he went on to make 108, stamp his authority on the situation, the match and one of three countries in which he had not recorded a century until today. It was only a matter of time, really, given Sangakkara's status as a class act, on the field, off the field and around the world.
"If the luck works for you on a particular day, you have to try and capitalise," said Sangakkara. "You can't go into a negative frame of mind at any time, especially against good attacks. I am watching the ball a lot better than I was in the first few innings. Once I got to the 60s and the 70s, it was a case of waiting for the bad balls."
Hittable deliveries came often, especially after lunch, when South Africa dished up short ball after short ball, which went from threatening to tame fairly rapidly. Their game plan was indecipherable as they failed to find a balance between drying up runs and taking wickets, which allowed Sri Lanka to cash in on an indecisive opposition. "Once you get to a certain total in front of the opposition, they have to go into a defensive mode," Sangakkara said, admitting it freed him up to score runs.
Besides his individual effort, Sangakkara shared two key partnerships, first withThilan Samaraweera, with whom he put on 94, and then Dinesh Chandimal, in a stand of 104. He credited with both with being essential to Sri Lanka's new found sense of self-belief.
"Thilan was out of the side and had come back in for a very tough tour. To do what he did in that first innings for us was incredible. It was a make or break series for the guy," he said. "Chandimal has shown that he is strong, both physically and mentally. He showed he was not overawed by the situation or the South African attack."
Now that Sri Lanka have overcome the mental barrier of the situation and the team they are playing against, they have a loftier target in mind. "We'd like to get into a dominant position and dictate terms," said Sangakkara. "Our target is to get as many as we can and make the South Africa work really hard to save the game."
Even though South Africa will have to achieve a world-record chase to win the match, Sangakkara said "nothing is beyond the realms of possibility" and the team is gearing up for a tough fight. On a pitch which still has "a bit of inconsistent bounce" Sri Lanka's bowling attack will have to make good use of the conditions and work well with their resources.
Sangakkara expects Rangana Herath to be a key factor in the search for a first Test victory in South Africa. "He is going to be very important for us. If he can get some turn and bowl with the same control, he will be a handful to play on this track," said Sangakkara. "Our pace attack has got to do a lot to take early wickets and get us breakthroughs with the new ball."
Before Sri Lanka arrived on this tour, they were labelled no-hopers especially in terms of their bowling. Kepler Wessels said even South Africa A would be able to beat them. It is a comment that stung and that, Sangakkara said, also spurred them on. "Comments can inspire sides; pressure situations make sides rise to the occasion. We proved that we have the ability to counter-attack," he said.
Now they want to prove that to South Africa too. "The best way we can make it count is to get them out," he said. "We have to control the aggression, have positive mindsets and at no point lose control of our emotions."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent