Sri Lanka 192 for 6 (Atapattu 97*) beat South Africa 191 (Kallis 52, Gibbs 49, Dilshan 3-25) by four wickets
Just when it looked as if South Africa might be about to turn around a wretched losing streak, with Sri Lanka showing signs of panic for the first time in the series, Marvan Atapattu produced an inspirational captain's innings. With hios side chasing 192, Atapattu finished on 97 not out, and guided Sri Lanka to a tense four-wicket victory, and an unassailable 3-0 lead to clinch the series - Sri Lanka's first against South Africa.
South Africa had started brightly. The toss was won and Herschelle Gibbs was given an early reprieve. Chaminda Vaas roared his lbw appeal triumphantly but, contrary to television replays that showed Gibbs to be palpably plumb, Billy Bowden kept his finger down. But after 12 nervy balls without scoring, Gibbs finally found the middle of the bat. A short-arm punch through the covers and an audacious pull-sweep behind square off Vaas set him on his way.
Graeme Smith, who never looked convincing, helped add 44 for the first wicket before spooning a chance to mid-on, where Sanath Jayasuriya snaffled a fine diving catch. Lance Klusener, the latest pinch-hitter at No. 3, failed to fire, but Jacques Kallis knuckled down for a hardworking 52 from 108 balls. When South Africa reached the 40-over mark on 142 for 3, a respectable total was on the cards.
But when they tried to push down the accelerator, it all went pear-shaped. First, Jacques Rudolph (18) was bowled trying to reverse-sweep a straight one from Tillakaratne Dilshan. Soon after, Kallis was caught behind off Rangana Herath as he tried to pummel a cover-drive. Suddenly, South Africa were 147 for 5, with two new batsmen at the crease.
Gradually, the spinners picked their way through the middle order: Mark Boucher drove to short cover, Shaun Pollock top-edged a sweep, J-P Duminy was trapped lbw, again sweeping, Alan Dawson skied into the deep, and Nicky Boje was stumped. South Africa had lost seven wickets for 47 runs.
Herath, competing with Kaushal Lokuarachchi for the last place in Sri Lanka's Champions Trophy squad, played the most crucial part, dismissing Gibbs, Kallis and Boucher. Picked ahead of a third fast bowler, as Sri Lanka read the pitch correctly, Herath finished with 3 for 28. Dilshan, struggling with a swollen ankle that needs frequent ice treatment, chipped in for the second successive game and mopped up the tail to finish with 3 for 25.
South Africa's fast bowlers came out fighting after another lame batting display, and gave their team a glimmer of hope when the two openers were whipped out cheaply. Dawson pinned Avishka Gunawardene (7) lbw with a delivery that pitched in line and would have flattened off stump (7 for 1).
At the other end, Pollock was striding in purposefully under the bright lights. Bowling a full length, he was wobbling the new ball a smidgen and hitting the pitch hard. He surprised Sanath Jayasuriya (11) with some extra bounce, and Gibbs swallowed an easy chance in the gully (34 for 2). The breakthrough brought up Pollock's 300th one-day wicket, in his 217th match. He became the seventh bowler in history to reach the landmark, and continued to threaten throughout an eight-over spell, finishing with 1 for 18.
His replacement, Boje, South Africa's only slow bowler, dampened the spirits of the festival crowd just after the drinks break when Kumar Sangakkara, not for the first time on the tour, got in a pickle with his footwork against Boje and was stumped down the leg side for 14 (65 for 3). Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene (21) settled the dressing-room for a while, adding 46 in 75 balls.
But the arrival of Duminy, a part-time offspinner, sparked a late-innings wobble, and revived South African hopes of a dramatic turnaround. First, Jayawardene was bowled through the gate, and then, Dilshan's stumps were splayed by a grubber from Klusener (126 for 5). A nervy contribution from Upul Chandana, who could have been dismissed twice before he finally chipped a simple catch to midwicket, left Sri Lanka under serious pressure at 145 for 60.
However, with Sri Lanka needing 46 from 54 balls, on a slow-paced pitch that was growing increasingly inconsistent in bounce, Atapattu punctured the pressure with a brace of boundaries off Klusener. Vaas, cheered to the crease like a gladiator by the boisterous crowd in the grandstand, also held his nerve and played positively. Had Kallis held a difficult diving catch in the deep off Vaas, Sri Lanka might still have been in trouble, but Atapattu finished the job with 14 balls to spare.