Sri Lanka 314 for 8 (Sangakkara 102, Thirimanne 69) beat South Africa 312 for 4 (de Villiers 125*, Smith 125) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
For once, the choke was almost on the opposition in a game involving South Africa. Sri Lanka almost messed up what had been the perfect big ODI chase. Their openers had blazed away and their middle order had kept up with the asking rate. Kumar Sangakkara was batting on a silken century with Sri Lanka on 274 for 3 in 44 overs chasing 313. And then came the collapse. Sangakkara holed out. It became 308 for 8 before Sachithra Senanayake, playing his second ODI, slog-swept the penultimate delivery for six to ensure the visitors left South Africa with a respectable 2-3 scoreline.
Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne had looked on course to lead Sri Lanka to their second consecutive successful chase of a 300-plus target after centuries from AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith had boosted South Africa to 312. In only his fifth ODI, Lahiru Thirimanne matched Sangakkara in an ultimately match-winning fourth-wicket partnership of 100, built on the solid start given by the openers. Following a rain delay after seven overs, the bowlers found it difficult to grip the ball.
But having reached his hundred off 96 deliveries, Sangakkara lofted JP Duminy straight to long-off. Fortune seemed to favour Sri Lanka in the next over when Thirimanne inside-edged Morne Morkel past his stumps for a four and off the next ball, Wayne Parnell fumbled at third man in the glare of the floodlights.
With 19 needed off 24, Sri Lanka were still on top. Angelo Mathews, though, chipped a Parnell high full toss to short extra cover to bring the hero of the fourth ODI, Thisara Perera, in. Duminy sneaked in a tight penultimate over to Perera which ended with the batsman smashing another high full toss to deep midwicket.
It came down to six off the final over with Sri Lanka still ahead. de Villiers gambled with Robin Peterson but even he would not have bargained for the left-arm spinner taking two wickets in three deliveries. Nuwan Kulasekara missed an attempted loft over extra cover to be bowled first ball. Rangana Herath sensibly gave the strike to Thirimanne next ball but the latter charged out and sliced the third delivery to short third man. The Wanderers roared with anticipation as Senanayake stepped out to defend the fourth one but was silenced when he slammed the fifth ball for a flat six over deep midwicket. It was also his first scoring shot in one-day internationals.
It was a chaotic end to what had been a well-choreographed chase. Sangakkara looked in no trouble and after unfortunate dismissals in the previous two games, carried on to play a decisive innings. Young Thirimanne showed remarkable composure in the company of his senior partner to make his maiden ODI fifty. While Sangakkara was in a zone of his own, finding all corners of the ground, Thirimanne favoured the point region whenever Sri Lanka needed a boundary.
The duo had Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan to thank for giving Sri Lanka the start they needed in a challenging chase. Sri Lanka's task had been further complicated by the need to keep one eye on the Duckworth-Lewis par score, with the looming threat of more rain after a thunderstorm caused nearly an hour's break in play.
Dilshan was his usual mix of plays-and-misses, on-the-up drives and whips. Tharanga was his usual self as well, timing the ball effortlessly through the off side after Morne dropped a sharp return chance with the batsman on 8. Sri Lanka had raced to 56 when the rain finally arrived in the eighth over.
Tharanga launched Lonwabo Tsotsobe for consecutive fours on resumption. Two deliveries later, Tsotsobe slipped in the slower one, and Tharanga sliced his lofted stroke for Duminy to hold on a sensational catch, diving after running back from cover.
Dilshan and Sangakkara kept Sri Lanka comfortably ahead of the par score but Tsotsobe struck again, having Dilshan edging an attempted steer off a short ball to the wicketkeeper. But Sangakkara kept finding the odd boundary to ensure that the asking rate did not gallop away.
That Sri Lanka were faced with such a stiff chase was because South Africa blasted 209 runs in the second half of their innings, and 109 off the final ten overs, to surge past 300. Smith overcame a scratchy start to biff his first ODI hundred since September 2009; de Villers carried on his superb form in the series to breeze to his first hundred as captain. The partnership of 186 between Smith and de Villiers was the second-highest in an ODI between South Africa and Sri Lanka.
As he had done in the fourth ODI, de Villiers put on an incredible display of boundary-hitting; he had targeted extra cover against the spinners in Kimberley, now he added fine leg against the medium-pacers. He repeatedly scooped deliveries from three feet outside off stump over short fine leg. Smith took an eternity to find his range, but when he did, he peppered the midwicket boundary with four sixes, all against the offspin of Senanayake.
There was no sign in the first half of the innings of what was to come later. South Africa had been kept down to 103 for 2 in 25 overs, with their latest experiment at the No. 3 position, Faf du Plessis, not working, and Smith struggling to find his timing. It was de Villiers who signalled the shift, launching Tillakaratne Dilshan's first ball of the 26th over for six over midwicket.
Smith soon got to his hundred with a typical nudge on the leg side and the Wanderers did not hold back the applause for their Test captain. To his credit, he was prepared to bat uglier than usual. He fell to Malinga on 125 to a brilliant leaping catch by Dinesh Chandimal at midwicket. An over earlier, Dilshan had spilled a much simpler catch off de Villiers at extra cover. de Villiers was on 84 then, he finished unbeaten on 125.
de Villiers' late assault wasn't beyond Sri Lanka in the end, though, and left them wondering what could have been had rain not determined the fate of the third ODI.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo