South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Durban, 4th day December 29, 2011

A win to savour for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka were totally written off after their innings defeat in the first Test. Their response in Durban has got the team celebrating with joy

The most endearing moment of Sri Lanka's historic first win in South Africa will be one that took place seconds after Rangana Herath was asked his first question in the post-match press conference. He took nine wickets to earn the man of the match award and spun Sri Lanka to their first Test victory since Muttiah Muralitharan retired 16 months ago. The question was how he felt about his role in Sri Lanka's victory.

"What I have to say is that it was a great team effort," said Herath, frowning to concentrate on his every word. "That's why we won against South Africa, that's why we are going to celebrate and that's why we are laughing."

To laugh is one thing but to emit shrieks of unadulterated joy is another. Teams do it when they win in situations that no-one, even themselves, believed that they could. They do it when they've made a point that people thought could not be proved, when they notch up a first that people imagined would not be achieved for years to come and when they've made a statement of intent that will be remembered as a turning point in their sporting history.

When Sri Lanka did it in Durban, they curved around a corner that may have as much significance as Castle Corner does to the average South African fan. They registered their ninth victory outside the subcontinent and beat a team that was expected to clean sweep them. So much so that the host broadcaster branded the tour on Twitter as the #noexcuses series, because they believed South Africa could not justify anything but a 3-0 win.

Before Sri Lanka arrived in South Africa, they were written off. When they arrived and performed without much peneteration in the tour match in Benoni, the line was smudged and when they lost in Centurion by an innings and 81 runs, they were erased right off the page.

Tillakaratne Dilshan said being spoken about disparagingly only served to motivate the team to perform in the opposite fashion. "We proved we are good," said Dilshan, with a streak of defiance in his voice. "I said at the start of the series that if we play our brand of cricket we can beat any team in any conditions and we did it."

"He handled things really well in the middle. He is learning quickly and I feel he is one of the greatest youngsters in Sri Lanka. He can get to 10,000 runs in Test cricket."
Tillakaratne Dilshan on Dinesh Chandimal

Kingsmead did not present just any conditions. The pitch allowed for a more balanced contest between bat and ball than its predecessor at SuperSport Park. The quicks had early morning bounce, the batsmen had a flattening strip in the sun, the spinners had the rough and the few cracks and Test cricket had an opportunity to end the year on a high. "Centurion was only for the fast bowlers but this wicket was a 50-50 wicket for batsmen and bowlers so I think this was a great Test wicket," said Dilshan.

Sri Lanka were given a chance to compete with South Africa on more even terms and they did not stop at competing. After dismissing the hosts for 168 in the first innings, through the skill of Chanaka Welegedara and the guile of Herath, their until-now under-performing batting line-up gave them a lead that would require South Africa to break a world record to claim victory. Their attack, which was criticised for not being able to take 20 wickets, then dismissed South Africa a second time, presenting the team with victory with a day to spare.

South Africa's batsmen collapsed after lunch, losing five wickets for 45 runs. Two of those dismissals, the ones of Jacques Rudolph and Jacques Kallis, were via poor shots and Hashim Amla was run-out in a comedy of errors. But Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher were the recipients of crafty deliveries. Dilhara Fernando removed Prince with a sharply rising delivery, similar to the one he bowled to Graeme Smith, and Herath had Boucher trapped lbw.

The left-arm spinner used the old-fashioned values of flight, turn and doggedness to claim his five-for. Even when it looked like Sri Lanka would drag the match into a fifth day when they appeared unable to remove one of AB de Villiers or Dale Steyn, Herath kept plugging away. He said he knew he would have to bowl a lot of overs and he did in miserly fashion. Although he credited a team effort for the victory, a large part of the thanks belonged to him.

While Herath was named man of the match, Dinesh Chandimal who scored twin fifties in his debut match, took three catches, effected a stumping and was involved in a run-out received some of the highest praise. "He was involved in two century partnerships," Dilshan said, referring to the first innings effort with Thilan Samaraweera and the second innings stand with Kumar Sangakkara. "He is one of the finest youngsters we have had. We gave him an opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands, not only batting but his keeping was also fantastic. He provided great support for the bowlers and the fielders and I firmly believe he is one of the best cricketers we have produced."

The one milestone in this match that was overshadowed was Mahela Jayawardene becoming the first Sri Lankan to score 10,000 Test runs. Dilshan said Chandimal, 22, may be able to do the same after the current crop have retired. "He can get to 10,000 runs in Test cricket," he said. "He handled things really well in the middle. He is learning quickly in Tests and one-dayers and I feel he is one of the greatest youngsters in Sri Lankan cricket." Chandimal is part of Sri Lanka's new beginning, a start that could be borne from the efforts in Durban.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shahid on December 30, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    CONGRATES FROM PAKISTAN. I always believed that it was a question of having the right combination before Sirilanka bounces back from the bad patch. I could never understand the selectors dropping SMARAWEERA from test squad in UAE. Had they included him, I am sure, Pakistan could at best draw that series. Chandimal is the coming star in world cricket and I hope Sirilanka will find a couple of more youngesters like him too.Now they just need to creat belief and trust in them selfs to win this series and I see it coming.

  • Alan on December 30, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    Well done Sri Lanka, hopefully they can build on the confidence that this will give them and start recording regular test victories again.

  • Biju on December 30, 2011, 10:46 GMT

    Well done SL...Never thought this wud happen in this series.. Well done.. Win the series.. Just dont get satisfied with this....

    Well Well.. Keplar wessels has no place to hide...

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2011, 10:02 GMT

    Sri Lankan team has always worked wonders for the cricketing world !! This first win on the South African soil is really commendable keeping in view their developing batting line up and a somewhat weak bowling attack and the first win after the retirement ofht spin wizard Murali....Herath and Welegedera have been the pick and surely will be the key for the final outing against SA on Jan 3rd....Sri Lankans are always a pleasure to watch in cricket...hope the best for them in the final test !!!

  • husain on December 30, 2011, 9:40 GMT

    one of srilanka's greatest wins. srilanka are playing a test match in south africa aft 9 years n no one expected srilanka to win. hats off to them. Now asian teams are winning more tests thn they used to win 10 years bak

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2011, 8:52 GMT

    Absolute bravery by the Lankan Lads, You gentlemen's made all Sri Lankans proud, I hope All(KW,CRICINFO,CRICKET ADMINISTRATORS & PEOPLE WHO MAKE ARROGANT COMMENT WHEN GOOD TEAMS ARE STRUGGLING DURING A TRANSITION) learned a lesson here in terms of expressing personal views & comments. " what a magnificent reply by Sri Lankans for KW's arrogant comments" I hope he reads all these comments. . Of course everyone is entitled for their opinion but there are appropriate mannerisms & ways to express those views (surely Arrogance is not the way Mr. KW) Cricket is a gentleman's game and analysts like KW ruins the reputation of the game if he continues to do his work,absolutely disgraceful comments, If I was in his position today I would apologize to all Sri Lankan & Cricket fans for making such arrogant comments. WHAT DO YOU SAY ALL!!! Please correct me if I was wrong on any of the above points.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2011, 7:58 GMT

    I am a sri lankan. And Really crazy cricket Fan from the very first day i saw first match over TV. fortunately it was our first test in 1982. Though test is long you kept my patience tested a lot & i loved watching . But for last few months all crazy things happened put my like away.

    but You team had made a mirracle before end of the year .. thanks alot. selecting right players has done it. if my gutt feeling is correct , Chamndimal had to be added about 10 test matches back to the team.. He has proved the value. Now he has to learn the patience . Why not calling upul tharanga back into tests. my ffeling is by now tharanga should be our captain. we need him in long run. well it is duty of team to show this is not a miracle in next test. it is all about having the same unity. ggod luck fellows.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2011, 7:25 GMT

    Hey, What happend to anti sri lanka indian fan s now. Are they slleeping now ? They criticized Sl team before the series. Please talk now ..

  • Praveen on December 30, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    Dear Mr. Wessels, Agreed. We are useless in swinging conditions. You are pathetic when it turns..still...

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    A great win and a shattering experience to South Africa

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