Test debut: G. F. J. Liebenberg.

Sri Lanka played themselves into a strong position, only to be destroyed by Donald's pace and craft in the second innings. He had to perform without the assistance of Pollock, who had bowled only 43 balls in the match before breaking down with a groin injury. But a Sunday crowd of 14,000 roared Donald on, and Sri Lanka- 103 ahead on first innings- collapsed to 42 for six and 122 all out.

The early stages had gone very differently. The star batsman in the first innings was South African, but his team still fell far behind. Four Sri Lankans scored half-centuries in a total of 303; Jayasuriya hit out early for 51 off 77 balls but, after he and De Silva were both out to Ntini in the space of five balls, the others, led by Ranatunga, put safety first.

Gerry Liebenberg, who had replaced Bacher, was then out first ball on his debut, pushing half-forward to the otherwise innocuous Pushpakumara, and South Africa relied almost entirely on Cullinan to make a respectable reply. He scored more than half his side's total and dominated the innings before he was eighth man out. While Cullinan stroked 13 boundaries, his team-mates were bemused by Muralitharan.

Sri Lanka were on course for a rare victory on foreign soil. But then Donald raced in. He bowled Jayasuriya off an inside edge as he played defensively, his 200th Test and 1,000th first-class wicket. Mahanama was lbw next ball and Atapattu was caught behind off a bottom edge. Cronje replaced Donald and struck with his third and ninth deliveries, Ranatunga jabbing at a ball which reared up and Tillekeratne falling to a splendid catch at point by Derek Crookes, substituting for Pollock. Three balls later, Crookes made a diving save at backward point; with De Silva committed to the run, Kaluwitharana sacrificed his own wicket. Sri Lanka were 42 for six.

Aided by Wickremasinghe, De Silva doubled the total, but he too was run out when, shortly before the close of the third day, wicket-keeper Boucher slid to stop a leg glance and threw down the wicket at the bowler's end. Ntini joined Pollock on the injury list and was unable to bowl on the fourth day after suffering a side strain. But Donald wrapped up the innings, leaving South Africa with 226 to win. Liebenberg batted attractively as he and Kirsten got South Africa off to the best start by either side in the series, before Muralitharan caused alarm when he spun out three men for the addition of ten runs.

This, however, brought Cronje to the crease. And the captain took command, square-cutting Muralitharan for four and lofting him for six in the second over the spinner bowled to him. Another six and some exquisitely timed strokes against both Muralitharan and Jayasuriya followed before he went to his fifty in sensational fashion, hitting Muralitharan for 4, 6, 6, 6, off successive balls. With three men on the leg-side boundary, Cronje lifted his arms in triumph as the third six sailed into the crowd. He had reached the second-fastest half-century in Test cricket in terms of balls: 31, just one more than Kapil Dev needed for India against Pakistan at Karachi in 1982-83.

Ranatunga admitted afterwards that he had no choice but continue bowling Muralitharan, as he considered him the only man likely to win the match for Sri Lanka. The 19-year-old left-arm seamer Nuwan Zoysa, replacement for the injured Vaas, had broken down, further reducing the options. Cronje took South Africa within 11 runs of their victory before being caught at long-on; in all, he had hit 82 from 63 balls with eight fours and six sixes.

Man of Match: A. A. Donald. Man of the Series: D. J. Cullinan. Attendance: 29,725.

Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 165-3 ( R. S. Mahanama 44*, A. Ranatunga 40*); Second day, South Africa 75-3 ( D. J. Cullinan 42*, W. J. Cronje 0*); Third day, Sri Lanka 93-7 ( G. P. Wickremasinghe 16*, D. N. T. Zoysa 6*).

Sri Lanka's matches v South Africa and Pakistan in the Standard Bank International One-Day Series (April 5-19) may be found in that section.