First Test Match

Sri Lanka v South Africa 2000

Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: K. Sangakkara; N. D. McKenzie.

Sri Lanka's victory in four days was a triumph of planning and execution, with the match following a course prescribed and predicted from three days before it began. For match-winner Muralitharan, his second-best Test analysis of 13 for 171 provided further evidence that he was the complete off-spinner, the ultimate attacking bowler. For South Africa, it was like being trapped in a nightmare. Everything pointed towards a contest between Muralitharan and the touring batsmen after his domination of them in the preceding Singer Triangular Series. Not one South African had felt comfortable against him; none even pretended to. Consequently, no one was surprised that the match started on a dry, cracked pitch that might have been ready for play two days earlier.

In such conditions, a captain's most important job can be to win the toss and bat. But Jayasuriya accomplished much more. He seized control on the first morning with an innings of such brutality and speed that Pollock, in his first Test as captain, had neither time nor inclination to consider a contingency plan. Before the match was even warm, the left-handed Jayasuriya upper-cut him high over gully for a one-bounce four that crashed into a van selling chicken snacks. Pollock looked more bewildered than offended. Jayasuriya slashed again, with the same result, and so began a game of chicken that Pollock was to lose emphatically.

The more Jayasuriya went over the top, the more Pollock kept his field up, intent on not being the first to give way. Kallis and Ntini suffered just as much, if not worse, forcing Pollock to bring on spinner Adams after 80 minutes of play. Jayasuriya stroked, clipped and thumped his first three balls to the boundary, and a sense of desperation settled on the fielding side.

At lunch, Sri Lanka were 145 without loss; Jayasuriya had missed, by four runs, becoming the fifth player to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test. By the time he heaved Adams to deep mid-wicket, he had hit 24 fours and a six in 148 from 156 balls; the scoreboard was changing to 211 for two. He and Atapattu had put on 193 in 44 overs for the first wicket, Sri Lanka's highest partnership against South Africa. Nor was the visitors' ordeal over. Jayasuriya's replacement, Jayawardene, displayed marvellous technical skills, confirming his reputation as the future of Sri Lankan batting with 167 in five and a half hours. He never had to wait longer than six balls for a bad one, and finished with 22 fours and two sixes. He and Vaas put on 117 for the eighth wicket, a Sri Lankan record against all-comers, helping them towards the first 500-run total in Tests between these sides.

Then it was Murali's turn. Maintaining complete control over the degree of spin of his stock off-break, revelling in both his "mystery ball", which turned the other way, and a top-spinner that darted towards the knees of the batsman, he reduced batting to a lottery. Cullinan played with immense skill to remain unbeaten with 114 after four and a half hours, yet admitted: "I could have been out three or four times. He's unique." On occasions, Muralitharan almost toyed with the batsmen as he gleefully tossed high, looping deliveries wide and short of off stump, teasing them into stepping back to cut. Rhodes and Boucher were both bowled, and embarrassed, when the ball spun back prodigiously. When South Africa followed on, 284 behind, leg-spinner Chandana had the temerity to take two of the first three wickets to fall. But Murali claimed the last seven to become only the sixth bowler in Tests to dismiss all 11 opposing batsmen. When he achieved his career-best 16 for 220 against England at The Oval in 1998, Alec Stewart's wicket had evaded him.

Pollock said afterwards that, with hindsight, he should have defended against Jayasuriya's onslaught much earlier, but always believed the edge was coming. The Sri Lankan captain admitted it was impossible to plan an innings such as his. And, in a delightful moment of understatement, he summarised his side's success: "Murali bowled very well and everything else just fell into place."

© John Wisden & Co