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Toss: Sri Lanka
South Africa avenged their innings defeat at Galle with a narrow victory in a match that was compulsive viewing from first ball to last, attracting larger crowds each day as it neared its climax. They came to see Sri Lanka clinch the series; instead South Africa delivered a knockout blow on the fourth day to square the series.
Winning the toss meant a gamble, for the pitch was a strange hybrid. Prepared as a dry turner, it had then sweated profusely after two days under heavy, tarpaulin covers while it rained incessantly. Jayasuriya unsurprisingly let his bowlers loose on it and South Africa crashed to 34 for five in 19 overs. The recovery was effected by Klusener and Boucher, who opted for a thrilling counter-attack rather than attritional repair work. Hitting the spinners over the top, and thrashing anything vaguely short, they put on 124, a sixth-wicket record for South Africa against Sri Lanka, before Klusener misjudged Muralitharan's agility off his own bowling and Boucher was run out. However, Klusener used his anger at himself constructively, and forged on towards his third Test hundred, squeezing 80 runs from the last two wickets and encouraging rare discipline from Adams and Hayward, who had replaced Ntini. The total slipped past 250 before Klusener was left unbeaten on 118, containing 13 fours and two sixes in 220 balls, an innings he described as his best yet.
In reply, Atapattu produced an exhibition of such impeccable, straight-bat technique that it resembled illustrations from a coaching manual. Together with the pugnacious Ranatunga, in his penultimate Test, he took the score to 286 for four, a lead of 33: Atapattu had a century, Ranatunga a half-century. But a desperate Pollock, bowling with skill and passion, instigated a collapse worth six for 22 in seven overs. Ranatunga had more than one reason to look watery-eyed at umpire Harper when lbw to a rising delivery that struck him on the box.
South Africa lost three wickets working off the arrears, but for almost four hours Kallis survived on a pitch that, by the third day, was offering exotic and quirky bounce. His 87 contained long periods of defence, mainly on the back foot reading the spinners off the pitch, but there were also moments of aggression when he used his feet and charged the bowling. Even so, South Africa's lead was only 137 with two wickets left when they resumed on the fourth morning. Boje, a No. 9 with four first-class hundreds, coaxed another partnership out of Adams, but ultimately Sri Lanka had more than five sessions to make 177.
The start was sensational: Atapattu and Jayasuriya were both lbw first ball, and at lunch Sri Lanka were 41 for four, with Ranatunga already on his way to a 36-ball 50 that made him the second Sri Lankan to pass 5,000 Test runs. No matter what Pollock tried, no matter how defensive his field-settings or the bowling, Ranatunga found the middle of the bat and the gaps in the field. Arnold dropped anchor and admired his former captain during a stand of 109 that seemed to be winning the match. Then he lost concentration and was lbw to Boje for 40. Ranatunga's innings, with 15 fours, ended just before tea when Rhodes snapped up a reflex catch at short leg off the full face of the bat. Suddenly South Africa sniffed victory, although Sri Lanka then needed only 16 with three wickets still in hand. Klusener, bowling slow, awkward cutters and "grippers" off just five paces, yorked Chandana first ball after the break, and five overs later Vaas, jittery and nervous, was run out by the injured Zoysa's runner, Jayasuriya, who had gone out himself to avoid exactly this possibility. Muralitharan was then unkindly given out caught behind off his first ball, which summed up an unhappy match for umpires Harper and Gamini Silva, standing in his first Test.