At Durban, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. Drawn. Toss: South Africa.
The loss of the entire fourth day helped Sri Lanka save the game, and meant that it would be remembered above all for the achievements of Muralitharan, who took 11 wickets including his 300th in Tests. Winning the toss, Pollock had resisted any temptation to bowl first, despite Sri Lanka's weather-hampered preparations and the allure of the country's bounciest pitch. Instead, he gave Kirsten first use, and the veteran opener cashed in with an unbeaten 112 before bad light (staved off a while by floodlights) ended play with South Africa an imposing 230 for three. What the scorecard did not reflect was the number of times the top-order batsmen were beaten in the first three hours, particularly by the pace of Fernando, playing his second Test.
Next day, Muralitharan gained his reward for a marathon 58.3 overs by claiming five for 122. Fernando collected the other five and was no less deserving, having maintained a wonderful line to the right-handers, swinging the ball just enough. He it was who eventually accounted for Kirsten, caught behind, with his score at 180 from 461 balls in 574 minutes. Kirsten's graft could be measured by a final tally of 20 fours, after he had hit eight in his first 50.
Sri Lanka's reply began disastrously. With Atapattu too keen to scamper a single and Jayasuriya lashing a resoundingly fast bouncer from Ngam to cover, they were two for two in the fourth over. Sangakkara and Jayawardene added a defiant 168, a Sri Lankan third-wicket record against South Africa, before Sangakkara's classy 74 ended with a sharp catch by Kirsten, standing deep at extra cover. Jayawardene was robbed of a century when Klusener's away-swinger clipped the bat's edge. As soon as they were parted, the crashing resumed; their stand would provide a remarkable 78 per cent of the eventual total. When Pollock claimed the final three wickets in five balls, becoming the second South African (after Allan Donald) to reach 200 Test wickets, the last eight wickets had fallen in 20 overs. Zoysa provided the milestone by pulling him to Ngam.
Rather than enforce the follow-on in failing light, South Africa batted again. With an hour plus two days remaining, time hardly seemed a problem, but next day it rained without pause. On the final morning, Pollock promoted himself to No. 4 - and was praised for his initiative in seeking to accelerate the lead before declaring. The reality was that some batsmen were reluctant to risk their wickets chasing quick runs; the result was that the more selfless players appeared, and soon disappeared. For as South Africa attempted all-out attack on a fifth-day pitch, Muralitharan had the run of the candy store. When he tempted Pollock to drive too early at a cunningly looped delivery, he became the 17th player to reach 300 Test wickets, and easily the first Sri Lankan - Vaas was his nearest rival on 127. There was no mistaking his delight. Only Dennis Lillee had done it in fewer Tests, taking 56 to Murali's 58.
Sri Lanka's theoretical target was 345 in around 70 overs, sufficiently unappealing to suggest that Pollock remembered his mauling by Jayasuriya in Galle five months earlier. In fact, Jayasuriya and Atapattu managed 41, which would remain their highest opening stand of the series by 29 runs. Then, suddenly, the Sri Lankans were 80 for four in the 34th over, with defeat a strong possibility. Arnold and Dilshan now formed an alliance that yielded 52 runs and, more importantly, spanned 30 overs. Although Pollock grabbed a pair of wickets late in the day, the danger had passed.
Man of the Match: G. Kirsten.