At Kandy, March 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 2004. Australia won by 27 runs. Toss: Australia.

Australia won a thriller, taking the series 2-0. But it could easily have been 1-1: for the second tour in a row, Kandy was not quite dandy for Australia. In 1999-2000, they lost badly after Steve Waugh and Gillespie collided and were helicoptered to hospital. This time they scraped the win - but only after trying to throw it away.

By lunch on day two, both first innings were over. The pitch was not perfect, offering some seam movement, but the batting was horrid. Australia might have bowled first but were deterred by an ill-suited line-up, including two leg-spinners and no third seamer. Instead they batted, but not for long. Only Hayden managed more than 18. Two of the top seven padded up disastrously, two swished and edged, and Lehmann was bowled trying to leg-glance. Their 120 all out was Australia's lowest total yet against Sri Lanka, and their worst overall since they made 104 against Phil Tufnell on a crumbling Oval pitch in 1997.

Sri Lankan smiles were doubly broad because, when Kasprowicz was bowled, local hero Muralitharan had his 500th wicket. Congratulatory banners unfurled in the ground, and firecrackers echoed off the green hillsides as news spread. But it proved a bittersweet game for Murali, partly because Warne had beaten him to 500 in the previous Test and claimed another ten here, and partly because fleet-footed Australian batting in the second innings forced him to retreat into a containing round-the-wicket line. The key battle of the series had been won.

That came later. Australia's feckless first innings had given Sri Lanka what Tillekeratne later called a "chance on a platter". But his batsmen turned up their noses. On a disastrous first afternoon, they plummeted to 92 for seven. The odd jagging ball demanded a straight bat: instead, three of the top four fell playing across the line, and the middle order were undone by Warne's subtleties.

However, on the madcap second morning Australia again offered free gifts. Kasprowicz was given an unusually long spell in search of a trophy fifth wicket, while Warne tossed the ball up and hoped for an outfield catch. Murali finally gave him one, but only after his slogging - which brought him three sixes - and Vaas's strokeplay had eked out 79, a record for Sri Lanka's last wicket. It meant a lead of 91. That brought out Australia's fighting spirit. Gilchrist, in terrible form, volunteered to replace Ponting (who had ricked his back) at No. 3 and hit ruthlessly straight. He and Martyn put on exactly 200 and Martyn went on, and on... and on. He made a career-best 161, accumulating as assiduously as a squirrel in autumn, though lucky to survive three slip chances, and oversaw the addition of 416. It was the essence of what John Buchanan, Australia's coach, had recently called "Baggy Green cricket'': relentless, immune to pressure and ultimately match-winning. When Martyn was last out, after nearly nine hours, shortly before lunch on day four, Sri Lanka faced a target of 352 - identical to Galle, but with two more sessions in hand.

Only two months before, and on a similar improving Kandy pitch, Central Province had scored a world-record 513 to win in the last innings. A reprise looked possible when Sri Lanka were 174 for three during the fourth afternoon and Jayasuriya was bullying MacGill in a shot-a-ball hundred. But, crucially, Jayasuriya cut to the keeper on 131, and late in the evening Warne bowled Dilshan, the last recognised batsman. Both teams faced a nervous night: Sri Lanka needed 51; Australia three wickets.

The Sri Lankan tail spent the evening practising on the outfield, and a bigger-than-normal crowd filed in next morning to cheer them on. Neither made much difference. Ponting set run-saving fields and gambled that Sri Lanka would crack under pressure. They did. The real tension lasted just three overs, when their final hope, Vaas, tried to hit Warne into the jungle past mid-wicket. With four men on the boundary it was a daft end to a superb innings. The last two wickets fell quickly. Warne ended with a fourth successive five-for; Sri Lanka ended distraught at another near-miss; and Ponting ended with a big grin, all the wider for being tinged with relief.

Man of the Match: S. K. Warne.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer