Third Test


At P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo, September 14, 15, 16, 18, 19. Drawn. Toss: South Africa.

The final day of the series was abandoned after heavy overnight rain soaked the ground. But Sri Lanka had probably forfeited their chance of drawing level already, thanks to their negative batting on the third day, when they added only 128 in 72.5 overs.

Needing no more than a draw to win the series, South Africa had every reason for confidence when Wessels decided to bat on another slow pitch. They took the score cautiously to 51 before Hudson prodded a catch to short leg off Dharmasena; Wessels was bowled by an in-swinger from Liyanage (who had replaced fellow-seamer Wickremasinghe) four balls later. There were more alarms when Cronje, Rhodes and McMillan were out in quick succession in mid-afternoon, reducing South Africa to 128 for five. But Cullinan and Richardson batted sensibly, both reaching their highest Test scores by the close. Though Richardson mistimed a drive to mid-on early next morning, Cullinan moved smoothly and patiently towards his maiden Test century, alternating sound defence with sweetly timed drives, pulls and cuts. He slashed wildly at Liyanage on 98, edging a difficult low chance to the wicket-keeper, then drove firmly past mid-off for his 17th boundary before lofting a simple catch off the occasional left-arm spin of Jayasuriya; Cullinan had batted for just short of six hours. South Africa's eventual 316 was not as imposing as they would have wished: Muralitharan bowled impressively again to take his haul of wickets to 15 in four innings.

Sri Lanka made another poor start, as Hathurusinghe fell to Donald for the seventh time in succession. The experiment of moving Dassanayake to No. 3 was partially successful, as he batted for more than an hour before being run out by Rhodes, who made an astounding diving stop at cover, but runs had been slowly earned. After Mahanama was caught at second slip, De Silva and Ranatunga posted fifty in almost even time, reaching 117 for three that night. But their tactics were difficult to understand on the third day. In complete contrast to the previous evening, De Silva and Ranatunga added only 36 runs in 27.4 overs before lunch. Tillekeratne continued the slow accumulation and, although Jayasuriya showed more enterprise, Sri Lanka were only 245 for five by the close of play. Jayasuriya continued to attack on the fourth morning and his 65 came off 92 balls with nine boundaries - compared with 263 balls and 384 minutes for De Silva's 82.

After declaring 20 behind, Sri Lanka entertained brief hopes; Wessels was out in the sixth over and Hudson and Cullinan were dismissed soon after tea. Cronje batted soundly, however, supported by Rhodes. They put on 94 for the fourth wicket before Rhodes was bowled by a leg-break from Muralitharan - a rare venture into variation for the bowler.

Man of the Match: D. J. Cullinan.

Close of play: First day, South Africa 231-5 (D. J. Cullinan 85*, D. J. Richardson 51*); Second day, Sri Lanka 117-3 (P. A. De Silva 44*, A. Ranatunga 30*); Third day, Sri Lanka 245-5 (H. P. Tillekeratne 29*, S. T. Jayasuriya 35*); Fourth day, South Africa 159-4 (W. J. Cronje 73*, B. M. McMillan 0*).

© John Wisden & Co