Test matches (2): Sri Lanka 2, South Africa 0
A fascinating tour, full of records and gripping cricket, ended acrimoniously when the South Africans withdrew from the triangular tournament due to follow the Tests because of fears for the players' safety. The decision came in the aftermath of an explosion in Colombo, which was intended to murder a Pakistani diplomat. The Sri Lankan board, faced with the prospect of a $12m loss, was left incensed that its assurance of "presidential-level security", which included armed bodyguards, bullet-proof coaches, three layers of checkpoints around the team hotel and traffic-free roads for all transfers, was not sufficient to allay player concerns and ensure the South Africans' participation. But two separate security firms recommended the pull-out.
Sri Lanka had won both the Tests. That bald scoreline might suggest a comfortable victory, but the second one was fiercely contested to the end, and South Africa almost squared the series. Their failure had almost everything to do with Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, who followed his successful leadership in England with a quite brilliant performance. Brimming with confidence, Jayawardene started with an epic 374 in the First Test, the fourth-highest score in Test history, and added a masterful 123 in the Second. In the process he also rewrote the recordbooks, sharing an awesome stand of 624 with Kumar Sangakkara - the highest stand in all first-class cricket. The tour ought to be best remembered for that.
Jayawardene's batting, backed up by his innovative and intuitive captaincy, was supplemented by the apparently inexhaustible Muttiah Muralitharan. He also returned from England in peak form, and continued his seemingly unending assault on the record books, claiming 22 wickets at 18.04 (taking him past 650 in his 108th Test), and equalling his own record of four consecutive Tests with ten wickets each time, which he also achieved in 2001-02: he claimed his 100th against South Africa for good measure. The opposing batsmen coped with him competently in the Second Test, after a timorous start in the First, but Murali's accuracy, skill, stamina and determination allowed him to dismantle the batting order even on the most docile of pitches - surfaces so torpid that he rarely used his doosra.
South Africa were handicapped from the start: Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis missed the whole tour with injuries, while Shaun Pollock skipped the First Test for the birth of his second daughter. Kallis's absence after elbow surgery proved particularly costly, unbalancing the attack and depriving the top order of the batsman best equipped to deal with Murali. Smith's withdrawal after damaging ankle ligaments in a pre-tour camp led to Andrew Hall being used as a makeshift opener, with mixed results, but also gave Ashwell Prince the honour of becoming South Africa's first non-white captain. Haroon Lorgat, the chairman of selectors, observed opaquely: "Ashwell's appointment is a non-event although the enormity and significance of it should not be missed."
Without those senior players, Prince's task was a demanding one, against opposition revitalised by recent success in England. They came into the series match-fit and battle-hardened: South Africa arrived from their winter and a ten-week holiday. With only a solitary three-day warm-up before the opening Test, it was understandable that their cricket was rusty and tentative at first.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Sri Lanka A v South Africans at Colombo (Colts), Jul 22-24, 2006
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Cricket Development XI v South Africans at Colombo (SSC), Aug 12, 2006
Postponed Match: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Aug 14-15, 2006
2nd Match: India v South Africa at Colombo (SSC), Aug 19, 2006
3rd Match: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (SSC), Aug 21, 2006
5th Match: India v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Aug 26, 2006
6th Match: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Aug 29, 2006