At Centurion, November 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 2002. South Africa won by three wickets. Toss: South Africa.

Sri Lanka had only four days to pick themselves up after their mauling in the First Test and, to make matters worse, lost Jayasuriya to torn ankle ligaments. But they confounded expectations and made a real fight of things, eventually losing a classic tussle by just three wickets. Fiercely contested, often acrimonious and richly entertaining, the match wound itself up to a compelling conclusion.

South Africa, preferring brawn to subtlety, again omitted the spinner, Claude Henderson, and stuck with a five-man battery of pace. Pollock opted to bowl, but no one could find much movement on an easy-paced pitch, and Sri Lanka should have made more of their opponents' lack of variety. Each time they poked their noses in front, South Africa edged past them again. Tillekeratne conjured up a trademard obdurate, stonewalling innings spanning five and a half hours, and Sri Lanka looked well placed. But Ntini tore in with the second new ball like an Olympic sprinter and, in the blink of an eye, 263 for five became 281 for nine. Tillekeratne, on 91, must have seen the prospect of a hundred fade as Muralitharan grinned his way to the crease with Ntini on a hat-trick. But he did become the fourth Sri Lankan to hit ten Test centuries, and the first to score one in South Africa. The comic last-wicket stand, which included a Murali six off Ntini, dragged Sri Lanka to a respectable 323.

Dilhara Fernando plucked out two wickets to put early pressure on South Africa before Gibbs and Kallis plodded soporifically through the second afternoon. Next morning, though, the game burst back into life. Gibbs, calling for a suicidal single, was run out for 92, and Kallis missed a perfect leg-cutter from Hasantha Fernando - to be dismissed for the first time in 1,138 minutes spread over five Tests. The score slid from 211 for two to 264 for six. However, South Africa bat deep: Boucher was patient, Pollock bold. Had it not been for a wild slog by Ntini, the No. 11, Pollock would doubtless have completed a third Test century rather than become the fourth batsman stranded on 99 not out. Pollock, who had been talking to Ntini to try to encourage him, jerked his head back in dismay. Even so, the lead was a healthy 125. Earlier, Muralitharan, who had toiled into his 50th over for his first wicket, sneaked past Kapil Dev to become the third-highest wicket-taker in Tests.

Ntini took two wickets before the close to appease his captain ("All is forgiven," said Pollock). But, despite three poor decisions and a thunderstorm that cost valuable time, Sri Lanka played positively, racing to build a lead. Sangakkara dominated the fourth afternoon, batting majestically and adding 119 in 34 overs with Jayawardene. They were rattling along so fluently that they twice declined offers of bad light. The floodlit cricket was exhilarating - Ntini surging in to bowl as lightning carved up the skies - but foolhardy. Sangakkara was snared down the leg side moments before the ground was awash. Sri Lanka's advantage was a slender 55.

Day five was tumultuous and tense - and began in controversy. A shocking decision by umpire Tiffin saw Jayawardene lbw to its first delivery, and four more wickets tumbled for 29. A ninth-wicket partnership stretched the lead to 120, but that hardly looked enough. Far from fizzling out, though, the contest intensified. Vaas struck first ball to pin Smith lbw, and Dilhara Fernando created panic with four quick wickets after lunch. South Africa were a precarious 44 for five, and at 73, Hall was snapped up at bat-pad. It was left to McKenzie, with a precious 39, and Boucher to wrest back the initiative. Muralitharan bowled McKenzie with nine needed, but that was the final twist.

Man of the Match: S. M. Pollock. Attendance: 27,351.
Man of the Series: J. H. Kallis.

Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 263-6 (Tillekeratne 82, Vaas 0); Second day, South Africa 183-2 (Gibbs 76, Kallis 69); Third day, South Africa 421-9 (Pollock 78, Ntini 3); Fourth day, Sri Lanka 180-3 (Jayawardene 40, Tillekeratne 0).