First Test

Sri Lanka v South Africa

Brian Murgatroyd

At Galle, August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2004. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka.

A combination of a pitch that did not deteriorate as much as expected and South African conservatism, when they rejected the chance of chasing 325 in a minimum of 93 overs, condemned this match to a tame finish. South Africa's approach was disappointing but not altogether surprising. They came into the series with only one three-day game behind them after a lengthy break; they were without both Gary Kirsten, who had retired, and the injured Gibbs; and there was an underlying fear that their traditional weakness against spin would be exposed by the home side, including Muralitharan, back in the Test line-up after opting out of the tour to Australia. In reality, that fear proved groundless as Rudolph led them to safety with a painstaking but thoroughly worthy hundred.

For Sri Lanka, Jayawardene and Muralitharan could also reflect on outstanding individual achievements. Jayawardene's second Test double-hundred led his side from 279 for seven at the end of the first day to 486. Muralitharan, in only his second Test since the ICC banned his doosra, regained sole possession of the world record for most Test wickets - Shane Warne had drawn level with him on 527 in July - when he had van Jaarsveld caught at slip off bat and pad. But the first two days of the Test belonged to Jayawardene. On day one he renewed his love affair with Galle, reaching his third hundred at the ground. It was a much-needed innings too: Sangakkara's attractive contribution apart, South Africa more than held their own, especially when they claimed two wickets with the new ball in the final two overs of the day.

The match turned in Sri Lanka's favour on day two. Smith was off the field for much of it, suffering from a debilitating virus, and in his absence Jayawardene and Vaas took control. Jayawardene used his feet contemptuously to Boje and, with Vaas an active partner, the pair added a Sri Lanka Test-record 170 for the eighth wicket. South Africa ran out of answers, and it took an impetuous drive to mid-off by Vaas to break the stand, just when he appeared to have a maiden Test hundred for the taking. Not even that dismissal ruffled Jayawardene as he moved to 237 in 563 minutes and 415 balls with 25 fours and three sixes - two driven and one swept off Boje - before he mispulled a delivery from Hayward, returning to Test cricket after a 19-month absence.

With uncertainty surrounding both the lasting qualities of the pitch and Smith's availability to bat, South Africa faced possible meltdown. But the makeshift opening pairing of van Jaarsveld and Dippenaar eased concerns by reaching the close in untroubled fashion. Although both fell in quick succession the following morning, Rudolph emerged to lead the resistance as South Africa passed the follow-on mark of 287 with ease. Selective in his strokeplay and favouring use of the pad, Rudolph could never be described as thrilling during a century which spanned almost seven hours. It went against his aggressive instincts, but there was no doubting either its value to South Africa or his own powers of concentration in sapping heat.

When South Africa were bowled out an hour into the fourth day, Sri Lanka's challenge was to score quickly enough to give themselves time to dismiss them again; by now, it was apparent the pitch was lasting better than most observers had predicted. However, acceleration proved easier said than done as Pollock and Klusener, himself returning to the Test side for the first time in more than two years, proved adept at taking the pace off the ball. Boje bowled a strict defensive line into the footmarks to claim his third five-wicket haul in Tests. Atapattu's closure eventually came with three overs left on day four but, encouraged by their efforts in the first innings and with Smith restored to the top of the order, South Africa felt a little more confident - though not confident enough to contemplate victory.

Man of the Match: D. P. M. D. Jayawardene.

© John Wisden & Co