A superb bowling performance by South Africa gave them their first win of the Champions Trophy and kept them in the tournament as they eased to a 78-run win against Sri Lanka, who are now on the brink of elimination. South Africa's total of 219 for 9 - built around an 80-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Jacques Kallis (43) and AB de Villiers (54) - seemed too little, but their seamers hit back in style, as Sri Lanka were routed for 141 at Ahmedabad.
At the halfway stage of the match there was little to suggest that South Africa would romp to such a convincing win. The pitch, while on the slower side, was playing reasonably well and was expected to stay firm, and the prediction was for dew to make it extremely difficult for the bowling side later in the evening. Moreover, Sri Lanka had a long list of in-form batsmen used to these conditions - everything suggested a fairly comfortable Sri Lankan win.
Within the first 15 overs of their run-chase, though, the equation changed dramatically as South Africa's seamers struck blow after blow to leave the Sri Lankans reeling. Getting appreciable seam movement and, on occasions, even bounce from a pitch which seemed to have livened up, they completely exposed the technical deficiencies of the Sri Lankan batsmen. Pollock was his usual Scrooge-like self, superbly accurate and nipping it both ways off the seam; Ntini bowled a fiery first spell, while Andre Nel backed them up in style, finishing with three wickets. So effective were the seamers that the services of Robin Peterson, the only specialist spinner in the team, were not required at all.
Sanath Jayasuriya was the first to succumb, though he can justifiably claim to have been unlucky, being adjudged lbw to one which pitched outside leg. The in-form Upul Tharanga was the next to fall, done in by a Makhaya Ntini special which angled away. Kumar Sangakkara continued the left-handers' procession, and when Marvan Atapattu completely misjudged an Andre Nel indipper, Sri Lanka had slumped to 34 for 4.
Through all the mayhem at the other end, Jayawardene battled on - though not entirely convincingly - to keep Sri Lanka in the contest. He had his share of play-and-misses and miscues, but he slowly gained in confidence and was looking increasingly confident till a terrible misunderstanding with Tillakaratne Dilshan in the 25th over: Dilshan played to backward point, Herschelle Gibbs made a spectacular diving stop and threw to the bowlers' end, Jayawardene made a desperate scramble to get back, but Pollock, backing up for the throw, dived and threw down the stumps Jonty Rhodes-style. Halfway into their innings Sri Lanka were five down, and there was no coming back from that slump.
Dilshan had plenty of making up to do for first calling his captain and then refusing the run, and he seemed to make amends for a while, getting to 36 before Gibbs got in the way again, this time intercepting a screaming square-drive. With the last recognised batsman out of the way, the end didn't take much longer.
For much of the afternoon, though, it was the Sri Lankans who were doing all the celebrating. They won the toss, reduced the South Africans to 30 for 3, and then never let go of the stranglehold till late in the innings, when Peterson and Pollock hammered 32 in the last two overs.
Graeme Smith, Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar were all early casualties as Vaas, especially, turned in an exceptional performance with the new ball, landing it on target ball after ball and conceding just 16 off his ten overs. Kallis and de Villiers - who returned to the side at the expense of Andrew Hall - ensured the innings wouldn't fall away completely. de Villiers had impressed with the way he handled Muttiah Muralitharan on the recent tour to Sri Lanka, and he continued in the same vein, using his feet to get outside the line of off and then working the ball with the spin to midwicket, or waiting for the doosra to spin away before working it to the off side. Kallis, on the other hand, was typically workmanlike - he had one moment of flourish, spectacularly hoicking a six off Dilhara Fernando, but his next twenty scoring strokes were all singles, as the Sri Lankan spinners choked the boundaries.
The pair put together 80 valuable runs, and though neither continued to get to a huge score, they at least gave South Africa a few runs to play for. Peterson lifted the score even further with some lusty hitting as Maharoof leaked 22 off the 49th over, from Maharoof, including a spanking six over square leg. Despite the last-minute heroics, South Africa only had a modest total on the board, but as it turned out, it was enough and more.
Graeme Smith c Jayasuriya b Vaas 10 (13 for 1)
Flicked straight to short midwicket
Herschelle Gibbs c Sangakkara b Malinga 16 (30 for 2)
Tried to guide to third man but nicked to the 'keeper
Boeta Dippenaar c Sangakkara b Vaas 3 (30 for 3)
Fine catch by the 'keeper standing up off a thin edge
Jacques Kallis st Sangakkara b Jayasuriya 43 (110 for 4)
Beaten by the turn, with the back foot just out of the crease
AB de Villiers c Maharoof b Muralitharan 54 (145 for 5)
Down the pitch and lofted to long-on
Justin Kemp b Jayasuriya 7 (169 for 6)
Tried to hoick across the line and missed
Mark Boucher b Malinga 29 (176 for 7)
Inside-edged a full ball back on to his stumps
Robin Peterson b Malinga 22 (218 for 8)
Move to leg to slog and missed a yorker
Andre Nel b Malinga 0 (218 for 9)
Beaten by another yorker
Sanath Jayasuriya lbw b Pollock 3 (9 for 1)
Pitched fractionally outside leg, but given by umpire Daryll Harper
Upul Tharanga c Boucher b Ntini 11 (21 for 2)
Feathered one that bounced and angled away
Kumar Sangakkara c Boucher b Pollock 0 (23 for 3)
Nicked an away-going delivery
Marvan Atapattu b Nel 2 (34 for 4)
Shouldered arms to an indipper
Mahela Jayawardene run out (Gibbs/ Pollock) 35 (77 for 5)
Sent back attempting a sharp single; diving underarm throw from Pollock
Farveez Maharoof c Smith b Kallis 3 (91 for 6)
Drove away from his body and edged to slip
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Gibbs b Nel 36 (114 for 7)
Diving catch to his left off a square-drive
Lasith Malinga c Smith b Nel 2 (124 for 8)
Short ball gloved to slip
Muttiah Muralitharan c Pollock b Ntini 3 (127 for 9)
Lofted to long-on
Dilhara Fernando lbw b Kemp 4 (141 all out)
Missed a yorker and trapped plumb in front
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo