A combination of vicious spin from Rangana Herath and impressive bounce from Dilhara Fernando helped Sri Lanka level the three-match series by bowling South Africa out for 241 on the fourth day in Durban. The victory represented Sri Lanka’s first since the retirement of the talismanic Muttiah Muralitharan, and extended the home side’s losing streak at Durban to four matches.
The day began with the tourists on 256 for seven, already a lead of 426, which they extended by a further 24 before Dale Steyn (five for 73) and Morne Morkel (two for 46) wrapped up the innings in the 79th over.
This left South Africa needing a world-record 450 to win; and they began well, reaching lunch on 86 for just the loss of Graeme Smith to snorter from Fernando. However, that delivery was a sign of things to come, as, almost immediately after the resumption, Thisara Perera induced Jacques Rudolph to poke at a wide ball to spark a dramatic collapse.
Carnage then followed as Jacques Kallis completed a rare pair in his 149th Test match; Hashim Amla ended an entertaining innings of 51 with a suicidal single to Chanaka Welegedara at mid-on; Ashwell Prince became another victim of Fernando’s extreme bounce; and Mark Boucher completed the picture as he was trapped plumb in front by Herath. The collapse of five for 45 looked to have handed the match on a plate to the jubilant Sri Lankans.
AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, however, had other ideas and batted for over 30 overs during their seventh wicket stand of 99. Slowly the Durban crowd began to think the unthinkable as Sri Lanka’s losing ways came back to haunt them with every de Villiers scoring stroke. Ably supported by Steyn, he hauled the home side back into the match and reached his half-century just after what would turn out to be the final drinks break of the match.
The end eventually came amidst a clatter of wickets with the advent of the second new ball, with de Villiers (69) the first to go after playing back to a straight ball from Herath. Tillakaratne Dilshan then accounted for Morne Morkel for just five, before Herath completed the win in the 88th over by pinning Steyn lbw for 43 and bowling the clueless de Lange second ball.
The win sparked jubilant scenes from all of the Sri Lankan players and was a fitting way for Test cricket to bow out in 2011 - a year that has quite possibly witnessed the beginning of a renaissance for the oldest form of our game.
© Cricket World 2011
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