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Best of the Tests: South Africa vs Sri Lanka


Sri_Lanka_South_Africa_Test_CricketThe Proteas have rather shakily begun their quest to win a second consecutive Test series in Sri Lanka, with the first of two Tests in progress at the Galle International Stadium. The tour marks the international return of pace ace Dale Steyn, who (at the time of publishing) needs only two wickets to become South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in Tests. Incidentally, Steyn was instrumental in South Africa’s 1-0 win in their previous series in the Emerald Isle in 2014, with a match-winning haul of 9/99 at Galle.

South Africa and Sri Lanka have played each other in 25 Test matches since their first meeting in 1993, with the Proteas enjoying a 14-5 advantage. On Sri Lankan soil, the numbers are slightly in favor of the hosts, who have won four and lost three out of 12 Tests till date. With the series underway, here is a look back in time at five memorable Tests played between the two nations.

Twists and turns galore - Second Test, Kandy, 2000

Smarting from an innings defeat in the first Test at Galle, South Africa, playing their first series under new captain Shaun Pollock following the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal, turned the tables at the Asgiriya Stadium. After electing to field, Sri Lanka sent South Africa crashing to 34/5, and might have harboured hopes of a maiden series win over the Proteas. However, Lance Klusener (118*) and Mark Boucher (60) forged a counterattacking sixth-wicket alliance of 124.

South Africa reached 253, to which Sri Lanka, steered by Marvan Atapattu’s 120, replied with 308. The visitors slid to 50/3 in the second innings, but a solid effort from Jacques Kallis (87) led them to a fighting 231, leaving Sri Lanka with more than five sessions to chase 177. The South African pace trio of Pollock, Nantie Hayward and Kallis gave their side a brilliant start, reducing the score to 21/4. Openers Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya were both dismissed for golden ducks.

Arjuna Ranatunga, playing his penultimate Test, took it upon himself to dent the South Africans. The former captain added 109 for the fifth wicket with Russel Arnold, and seemed to be motoring Sri Lanka to a victory. But there was a final twist in this Test, as Arnold’s wicket induced a fatal collapse of six for 39. When Ranatunga was seventh out for 88, Sri Lanka needed 16 to win. The tail added only eight more though, handing South Africa a narrow seven-run win.

A partnership for the ages - First Test, Colombo (SSC), 2006

This Test will forever be remembered for the astonishing world-record partnership for the third wicket between Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardene. South Africa were skittled out for 169 by tea on the first day, before Dale Steyn removed the openers with just 14 runs on the board. This set the stage for the Sinhalese Sports Club’s date with history, as Sangakkara and Jayawardene flayed the hapless South African bowlers for the next 157 overs.

The prolific pair put on 624, breaking the Test record (576 for the second wicket by compatriots Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama against India in 1997) as well as the first-class record (577), until Sangakkara fell for 287. Jayawardene went on to score 374, the highest by a Sri Lankan, to swell the total to 756/5. South Africa battled hard in their second attempt, but Muttiah Muralitharan’s 6/131 (10/172 in the match) sealed a Sri Lankan win by an innings and 153 runs.

A chase to cherish - Second Test, Colombo (PSS), 2006

South Africa bounced back from the drubbing at the SSC with a much-improved performance at the P. Sara Oval, but could not prevent Sri Lanka from sweeping the series. After slumping to 70/4, the visitors were served by a fourth-wicket stand of 161 between stand-in captain Ashwell Prince (Graeme Smith missed the series due to injury) and A.B. de Villiers, who scored 86 and 95 respectively. Muralitharan (5/128) took another fifer, but South Africa mustered a robust 361.

Sri Lanka faltered against the pace of Steyn (5/82) and Makhaya Ntini (4/84) in reply, and at 86/5, they looked to be down for the count. The revival came through Chamara Kapugedera (64), followed by a rearguard 117-run eighth-wicket stand between Farveez Maharoof (56) and Chaminda Vaas (64), which boosted the hosts’ total to 321. In the second innings, South Africa’s top order was held by Herschelle Gibbs (92), while Mark Boucher (65) anchored the lower order.

Though the irrepressible Muralitharan captured 7/97 to finish with 12/225 in the match (his fourth ten-wicket haul in a row), Sri Lanka required a steep 352 to win. Jayasuriya provided early impetus with a quick 73, before Jayawardene constructed a fine 123. The Lankan captain was seventh out at 341, after which two more wickets fell for nine runs to further raise the tension. In a nail-biting finish, Lasith Malinga hit the winning run to complete a one-wicket win.

Kingsmead conquered - Second Test, Durban, 2011-12

Sri Lanka’s first win in South Africa was quite an incredible achievement, given that they had failed to win any of their previous 15 Tests since Muralitharan’s retirement in 2010, and had sunk to an innings defeat in the first Test of this series. The visitors’ first innings recovered from 162/5 to 338, thanks to a sixth-wicket stand of 111 between Thilan Samaraweera (102) and debutant Dinesh Chandimal (58). Another debutant, fast bowler Marchant de Lange, took 7/87.

Left-arm seamer Chanaka Welegedara (5/52) and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath (4/49) then combined to bowl South Africa out for 168. Sri Lanka consolidated in the second innings through Sangakkara (108), and despite Steyn’s 5/73, South Africa faced an improbable target of 450. The writing was on the wall at 133/6, and all that de Villiers’ 69 did was reduce the margin. Herath snared 5/79 to return match figures of 9/128, as Sri Lanka secured a historic 208-run win.

Proteas survive the spin test - Second Test, Colombo (SSC), 2014

This was a must-win for the Sri Lankans if they were to draw level with South Africa, whose convincing 153-run win at Galle had brought them a step closer to a first series win in Sri Lanka since 1993. On a pitch where batting was expected to become progressively more difficult, Jayawardene’s 165, the last of his 34 Test tons, pushed his team’s first innings total to an above-par 421. In reply, Hashim Amla, newly appointed as captain, notched a gritty century of his own.

Amla alone stood tall with an unbeaten 139 in a total of 282, even as off-spinner Dilruwan Perera (5/69) and Herath (4/71) kept striking at the other end. Sri Lanka, led by Sangakkara (72), built on the lead of 139 by declaring at 229/8 six overs after tea on the fourth day. The South Africans were set 369 to win, and another trial by spin awaited them. Understandably, survival was the only thing on their minds. They finished the fourth day at 38/1, losing Alviro Petersen for a duck.

On a gripping last day, South Africa ensured that they regained their position as the top-ranked Test team. Amla faced 159 balls for 25, de Villiers 67 for 12, and Duminy 65 for three runs. When Duminy was seventh out at 130, around 18 overs still remained. Much to the hosts’ vexation, Philander (27*) joined the blockathon, using up 98 balls. Herath (5/40) and Perera tried their best, but South Africa escaped to clinch the rubber, batting out 111 overs to crawl to 159/8.


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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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