Second Test

Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2006

At P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo, August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2006. Sri Lanka won by one wicket. Toss: South Africa.

After the one-way traffic of the First Test, the Second was a classic, a compelling match that ebbed and flowed throughout, refusing to reveal the winner until the final stroke: a textbook on-drive from Sri Lanka's last man, followed by a frenetic scampered single. That completed the sixth-highest successful fourth-innings run-chase in Test history - and sealed the series with the 11th one-wicket Test victory.

South Africa stormed back on an action-packed first day featuring 56 fours, two sixes and ten wickets. Their batsmen had learnt their lessons from the previous week and adopted a more forthright and aggressive approach, especially against Muralitharan (who took his customary ten wickets in the match even so), and they raced to 361 at four an over.

It had not started well, though. Vaas, back from injury, bent an inswinger into Gibbs's front pad second ball; Hall, an insecure makeshift opener as the ball nipped around, was also dismissed for a duck, then Rudolph was bowled by a fast inswinger from Malinga in a potent new-ball spell on a pitch with greater bounce and pace than the previous one. From 31 for three, the tables were turned by enterprising batting, especially from de Villiers, who took charge from the start with some punchy cuts and cover-drives off the seamers, and a combination of sweeps and crisp clips off Murali. At one stage during the swelteringly hot first afternoon, South Africa were healthily placed at 231 for four. However, throughout this match when one side threatened to take control, the pendulum swung back. Murali dismissed Prince for an adhesive 86, de Villiers followed for 95, including 18 forthright fours, and as usual the lower order could make little of Muralitharan.

A fiery new-ball burst reclaimed the initiative for South Africa next morning. Encouraged by the extra bounce and some early-morning movement, Ntini turned predator again after a listless First Test, reducing Sri Lanka to 86 for five before lunch. Only Jayasuriya, with a swift 47, provided much resistance. Once again, though, Sri Lanka clawed their way back, as the middle order rallied. Kapugedera and Prasanna Jayawardene (keeping wicket in this series after the selectors decided Sangakkara should focus on his batting) launched an electrifying counter-attack, smashing 105 for the sixth wicket in a flash, before a more sober partnership between Vaas and Maharoof dragged Sri Lanka close to parity.

With the tension rising, the free-flowing cricket of the first two days was replaced by a dour, gritty battle. Led by Gibbs (who ended a barren run with a hard-working 92), South Africa inched forward throughout the day, their progress impeded by Muralitharan's miserly wiles and Mahela Jayawardene's intelligent field-placings. Every single run had to be earned: it was a slow but enthralling contest.

South Africa seemed to have retained their advantage by the close, despite sacrificing two precious wickets to wasteful run-outs, finishing the third day 297 in front with three wickets left. Both camps pronounced themselves happy with their respective positions, but fourth-innings history leaned heavily towards South Africa. And the odds against Sri Lanka lengthened even more next morning, as Boucher cut loose, extending the lead to 351.

Jayawardene instructed his batsmen to attack the target, arguing that patient creaseaccumulation was doomed to failure. Jayasuriya needed no second invitation, having topped up his fragile confidence in the first innings, and completed his first Test halfcentury since 2004.

An injured hamstring forced Ntini off, but Boje, encouraged by some sharp turn, inspired a mini-collapse during the afternoon as Jayasuriya, soon after planting his third six into the grass-banked stands, gloved one that kicked wickedly from the rough. Dilshan charged down the pitch but only edged to slip, then Kapugedera was caught at short cover: suddenly Sri Lanka were back in trouble at 201 for five, with Jayawardene the only specialist batsman left.

South Africa's catching, a problem against Australia earlier in the year, let them down again. Crucially, Gibbs dropped Jayawardene in the gully when he had made only two, while Amla, lurking at bat-pad for most of the innings, dropped Jayasuriya and later missed Maharoof at silly point as the chase entered the nerve-jangling final phase.

Jayawardene started slowly, playing himself in with assiduous care after a reckless waft in the first innings, but eventually settled into a serene rhythm. His shot-selection and execution, as during his 374, were close to impeccable, and throughout he remained calm and composed, never afraid to play strokes when the opportunity arose, despite the pressure that descended upon his shoulders when the fifth wicket fell. Considering the context, this six-hour 123 was probably the greater of the two innings.

Jayawardene had guided his team to the brink of victory by lunch on the final day, when only 19 more were needed with four wickets remaining. But there was one final pulsating passage left, as South Africa made a desperate last effort after the break, cajoling Jayawardene into his favourite inside-out lofted cover-drive to break the deadlock. The gamble backfired, as he was caught at slip.

Maharoof and Vaas chiselled out the runs one by one, collecting seven in the next five overs, before de Villiers acrobatically plucked a gully catch off Vaas to bring Muralitharan to the crease with four runs needed. Murali, a bundle of nerves, had been promoted with the instruction to try to slog the final runs. It nearly worked: he carved a two straight down the ground, but then had his stumps uprooted after a wild swing. Maharoof, though, held his nerve with a single to secure the tie; then Malinga got the run that mattered.

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

Man of the Series: M. Muralitharan.

© John Wisden & Co.