Toss: Sri Lanka.

Ranatunga's farewell to international cricket after 93 Tests loomed over the deciding match, despite both teams entertaining genuine hopes of a series win. Sri Lanka's former captain, an 18-year-old schoolboy when he played in their inaugural Test, against England in February 1982, had announced his pending retirement during the First Test, and emotions had been building up ever since. The selectors even recalled de Silva, many believing it inconceivable that the two great men of Sri Lankan cricket could be separated for Ranatunga's last game. The only other change was Zoysa's replacement by another left-arm seamer, Perera, returning to Test cricket after more than a year out with back problems.

Many of SSC's most loyal servants, Ranatunga's friends and colleagues, formed a guard of honour as he trotted on to the field after Jayasuriya chose to bowl under grey skies at a venue well known for assisting seamers. Perera struck with his first ball, helped by McKenzie's slash at a wide half-volley, and the dismissal set off a top-order quake. South Africa crumbled to 117 for six before Klusener again came to the rescue with an unbeaten 95 that was two-sided in character but packed with power and craft. He blasted 50 from 64 balls before a sensational rainstorm ended play at 194 for seven. Next morning saw him push and prod for another 111 deliveries, getting South Africa up to 279 before he ran out of partners when Hayward spooned a full toss to square leg. Sri Lanka's reply was dominated by left-arm spinner Boje, who displayed every facet of his attacking armoury in his second five-wicket haul in six months - only the third by a South African slow bowler since their return to Test cricket in 1992. Meanwhile, Adams, the only other spinner to achieve one, was not trusted with a single over after his hammering in the first two Tests. Chandana's selective hitting reduced South Africa's lead to just 21, with the result that their second innings was governed by caution. Kirsten's 40 occupied three and a quarter hours, while Rhodes took 151 balls over 54; Muralitharan made South Africa battle for every run. Klusener, Boucher and Boje frustrated Sri Lanka every time they sensed a breakthrough, and finally Pollock set a target of 263 in two sessions, totalling 68 overs.

Adams, given a bowl at last, dismissed Jayasuriya in his first over to cut the run-chase to 37 for three, but his wild celebrations were sadly premature, for Jayawardene, de Silva and Ranatunga all went after him. De Silva displayed brief touches of silk until departing an hour before the final curtain, whereupon Ranatunga entered to huge applause from a crowd given free entrance for this moment. After defending a couple of deliveries, he launched several more down the ground in defiance of Father Time, chuckled with the bowlers and walked his singles as if he owned the turf. In fact, he looked just as he had for the past decade and more.

Jayawardene kept the players on the field virtually until the final over to complete his fourth Test century, but by then all attention had turned to the marching band, the stage and the fanfare being prepared to bid farewell to the hero. Jayasuriya was not alone in wiping away tears as he applauded the man from whom he inherited the leadership of Sri Lankan cricket.