A HUMDINGER

The hour after lunch on the final day was REPLETE WITH THRILLS as Sri Lanka forced a one-wicket win over South Africa. A report by REX CLEMENTINE.

Test matches between Sri Lanka and South Africa have invariably been well-fought and the second and final encounter between the countries at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium recently lived up to this expectation. It was one of the closest Test matches ever to be played and ended with the narrowest of wins Sri Lanka has recorded — by one wicket, with the last man hitting the winning runs.

There were several highlights in the Test, but all of them were overshadowed by the quality of entertainment in the last hour of play. During the entire Test, fortunes fluctuated and no team was in command for two full sessions.

South Africa opted to bat, but the Sri Lankan seamers reduced them to 70 for four by lunch. Then Adam de Villiers and captain Ashwell Prince fought back with a 161-run partnership for the fifth wicket as South Africa batted out the afternoon session without further loss. Their stand was a new series record for the fifth wicket, improving on the previous best between Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga in 1993 at Moratuwa.

Muralitharan hit back soon after tea, forcing Prince to play tentatively and offer a simple return catch. Prince made 86, while De Villiers missed a well-deserved hundred by five runs when he was wrongly given out, caught behind, by umpire Billy Bowden.

Shaun Pollock, returning to the side, ensured that the tourists would score well in excess of 300 when he hit 57 off 70 balls with five fours and two sixes. South Africa were bowled out off the penultimate ball of the day for 361, a good score after the disappointing start.

Sri Lanka too got off to a disastrous start when Makhaya Ntini ran through their top order. They were five down for 86 with Ntini accounting for four of them and Dale Steyn claiming the prize scalp of Mahela Jayawardene.

But, like the South Africans, Sri Lanka also fought back. Chamara Kapugedara, only 19, has been promoted as a player with immense talent and he proved his case with a blistering 63 in 77 balls (nine fours and two sixes). Together with Prasanna Jayawardene (42), Kapugedara added 105 runs for the sixth wicket before falling to Nicky Boje, who finally got a wicket in the series after bowling 70 overs and conceding over 240 runs.

Despite the partnership, Sri Lanka were still not out of trouble and were 191 for seven when Chaminda Vaas joined Farveez Maharoof. The two seamers batted brilliantly adding 117 runs for the eighth wicket and taking Sri Lanka close to South Africa's total. Vaas completed his 11th Test fifty and top-scored with 64, while Maharoof made 56.

Still Sri Lanka finished 40 runs behind South Africa as they were bowled out for 321. Herschelle Gibbs, who had failed to produce big scores in the series, finally hit 92, but was involved in the run-outs of Jacques Rudolph and Hashim Amla.

There was some confusion when Rudolph was run out. A loud appeal for leg before wicket against Gibbs was turned down and as the batsmen were running leg-byes, Upul Tharanga on the third man boundary dived and kept the ball in play. He then fired a direct hit to run out Rudolph at the striker's end. Confusion arose whether Tharanga had kept the ball in play and when it was referred to the third umpire, replays indicated that the fielder may have touched the rope, but it wasn't conclusive.

Going by the latest ICC regulations, where the benefit of the doubt in boundary line decisions goes in favour of the fielder, the third umpire decided that the ball was in play and ruled Rudolph run out. South Africa kept fighting and finally were bowled out on the fourth day for 311, leaving Sri Lanka a stiff target of 352.

Muralitharan had claimed five wickets in the first innings to become only the second bowler in the game to take 650 Test wickets. In the second innings he came up with an even better show, picking up seven wickets, the 56th time he had taken five wickets or more in an innings.

In the process he completed 100 Test wickets against South Africa and ended with a match bag of 12 for 225 and a series tally of 22, the most number of wickets anybody has taken in a two-Test series.

Sri Lanka had only once chased anything over 300. Their best successful chase in Test cricket was 326 against Zimbabwe in 1997 and to get 352 they had to come up with a special effort. Right from the start, the Sri Lankans had decided that they would go for the target and they started off the run-chase with Sanath Jayasuriya counter-attacking. Despite the loss of Upul Tharanga for no score, Jayasuriya took up the initiative, using his pet cut and pull shots to good effect. He targeted Shaun Pollock and hit the first three balls of his third over for 4, 4 and 6, the last one hoisted over the sightscreen and into the adjoining Air Force Camp. Jayasuriya made Pollock look a shadow of his former self and finally the former South African captain started bowling off-cutters. Jayasuriya made 73 in only 74 balls with nine 4s and three 6s.

Boje, however, was the man threatening to win the game for South Africa. In one session he got three big wickets, those of Jayasuriya, Tillekeratne Dilshan and Kapugedara, and at 201 for five the game had shifted South Africa's way with the hosts still needing 151 on a turning wicket.

The situation would have been worse had Herschelle Gibbs, probably the best fielder in the side, not put down a chance at first slip with Mahela Jayawardene on two. South Africa paid dearly for the lapse.

The Sri Lankan captain made the most of the reprieve and together with the other Jayawardene, wicketkeeper Prasanna, fought back. The pair took the score to 262 at close on day four and the game was evenly poised with 90 runs needed on the final day with five wickets to fall.

The new ball was available in eight overs after the start for South Africa, but they suffered a massive blow when fast bowler Ntini was ruled out from taking further part in the match due to a hamstring strain. With Pollock not being as effective as he used to be, the tourists were struggling, but they never gave up.

Sri Lanka lost Prasanna, but Farveez Maharoof proved a hard nut to crack as he added 62 runs for the seventh wicket with Mahela. The captain majestically marched to his 16th Test hundred and became only the fifth player in history to score over 500 runs in a two-Test series.

After lunch there were some amazing turnarounds. The first hour was absolutely enthralling as both teams played mind games and kept the other guessing.

The runs dried up and it was simply hard to beat the field as the South Africans kept diving for everything. Only seven runs came in the first half an hour and Mahela trying to finish things off stepped out to Boje, who was using the rough outside the right-hander's leg-stump cleverly, but only managed to give a thick edge to Gibbs at slip.

Sri Lanka still needed 11 runs when Chaminda Vaas walked in He top-edged a sweep shot that fortunately for him landed in no-man's land and the batsmen crossed over for a couple. Then Vaas could have been run out with Sri Lanka still needing nine as Gibbs picked up a Maharoof on drive from short midwicket and in one motion turned around and had a go at the stumps. He missed by only one or two inches.

Andrew Hall, in an amazing two-over spell after lunch, came up with quite a few wicket-taking balls.

With Sri Lanka needing four to win, Vaas flashed at a delivery and that looked like heading towards the vacant third man boundary. But De Villiers, fielding at second slip, stretched fully to his left to come up with the catch of the series. This put the Proteas back in the game.

Muralitharan, after missing a few slogs, finally connected an off-drive. He completed two runs to bring it down to two more for victory. But Hall castled him, the bowler's figures after lunch being 3-2-2-2.

Maharoof levelled the scores by hitting one over Boje's head and crossing for a single. Then Malinga, too, hit Boje over his head for a comfortable single and that started the celebrations.

Mahela Jayawardene was the Man of the Match, while Muttiah Muralitharan was the Man of the Series. While the captain finished the series with 508 runs, Muralitharan picked up 22 wickets at 18.04.

The Scores

Second Test, Sri Lanka v South Africa, P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo, August 4-8, 2006.

South Africa — 1st innings: H. Gibbs lbw b Vaas 0; A. Hall c Dilshan b Malinga 0; J. Rudolph b Malinga 13; H. Amla lbw b Muralitharan 40; A. Prince c P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 86; A. de Villiers c P. Jayawardene b Malinga 95; M. Boucher b Muralitharan 32; S. Pollock (not out) 57; N. Boje c Sangakkara b Maharoof 11; D. Steyn c Jayasuriya b Muralitharan 6; M. Ntini c Maharoof b Muralitharan 13; Extras (nb-8) 8. Total 361.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-4, 3-31, 4-70, 5-231, 6-256, 7-273, 8-307, 9-327.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 18-4-71-1; Malinga 18-4-81-3; Muralitharan 33.5-2-128-5; Maharoof 15-2-52-1; Jayasuriya 5-0-29-0.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: U. Tharanga c Boje b Ntini 2; S. Jayasuriya c Gibbs b Ntini 47; K. Sangakkara c Amla b Ntini 14; M. Jayawardene c Boucher b Steyn 13; T. Dilshan b Ntini 4; C. Kapugedera b Boje 63; P. Jayawardene b Steyn 42; F. Maharoof b Steyn 56; C. Vaas c Boucher b Steyn 64; L. Malinga (not out) 8; M. Muralitharan c Hall b Steyn 0; Extras (lb-1, w-2, nb-5) 8. Total 321.

Fall of wkts: 1-16, 2-43, 3-74, 4-85, 5-86, 6-191, 7-191, 8-308, 9-317.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 21-3-84-4; Steyn 13.1-1-82-5; Pollock 16-4-52-0; Hall 15-7-31-0; Boje 20-6-71-1.

South Africa — 2nd innings: H. Gibbs c Jayasuriya b Muralitharan 92; A. Hall c P. Jayawardene b Maharoof 32; J. Rudolph (run out) 15; H. Amla (run out) 8; A. Prince c & b Muralitharan 17; A. de Villiers c Dilshan b Muralitharan 33; M. Boucher c Dilshan b Muralitharan 65; S. Pollock c Tharanga b Muralitharan 14; N. Boje c P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 15; D. Steyn lbw b Muralitharan 0; M. Ntini (not out) 5; Extras (b-9, lb-4, w-1, nb-1) 15. Total 311.

Fall of wkts: 1-76, 2-119, 3-131, 4-161, 5-206, 6-207, 7-235, 8-280, 9-282.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 19-4-53-0; Malinga 12-1-55-0; Maharoof 21-3-53-1; Muralitharan 46.5-12-97-7; Jayasuriya 9-0-40-0.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: U. Tharanga c Gibbs b Ntini 0; S. Jayasuriya c Amla b Boje 73; K. Sangakkara c Amla b Pollock 39; M. Jayawardene c Gibbs b Boje 123; T. Dilshan c Gibbs b Boje 18; C. Kapugedera c de Villiers b Boje 13; P. Jayawardene lbw b Hall 30; F. Maharoof (not out) 29; C. Vaas c de Villiers b Hall 4; M. Muralitharan b Hall 2; L. Malinga (not out) 1; Extras (b-4, lb-8, w-4, nb-4) 20. Total (for nine wkts.) 352.

Fall of wkts: 1-12, 2-94, 3-121, 4-164, 5-201, 6-279, 7-341, 8-348, 9-350.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 7.2-2-13-1; Steyn 22.4-2-81-0; Boje 39.3-11-111-4; Pollock 19-2-60-1; Hall 25-3-75-3.