South Africa steamrolled Sri Lanka by 153 runs in the first Test at Galle on Sunday to record only their third win in 11 Tests in the island nation and not surprisingly, pace ace Dale Steyn was the driving force. (Scorecard)
The 31-year-old Steyn has been at the center of several Proteas triumphs at home and away over the last 10 years but his achievements in Sri Lanka, where pitches have traditionally assisted spinners, will become part of folklore. On a Galle surface, where the visiting spinner picked up only one wicket, Steyn stepped up, ripping through the Sri Lankan side with his 23rd fifer and then ran through the hosts again in the second innings, picking up a four-for, also for the 23rd time in his 73-Test career.
The 9/99 he finished with after the opening Test was Steyn's best match figures against Sri Lanka in Tests, as he bettered the 6/54 at Centurion in December 2011. This is also the best bowling performance by a South African in a Test vs Sri Lankan in Sri Lanka. In fact, no other fast bowler has done as well in a Test played at Galle, which hosted its first five-day match back in June 1998.
Steyn is no stranger to sub-continetnal conditions, thanks to his long stints at the Indian Premier League. He used his experience on batting friendly surfaces and turning pitches to good use, becoming the first non-Asian fast bowler to complete 80 wickets at an average of 22.17 in 16 Tests.
Newly appointed Test captain Hashim Amla would have been a happy man to see his most potent weapon striking with such force. Steyn now has 261 wickets (average 16.06) in 39 Tests, which is a South African record in a winning cause. And no one would have been happier than Amla himself when he watched Steyn walk up to collect his ninth man-of-the-match award in Tests - his first against Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka will of course be assured of another pace barrage when the two sides clash in Colombo from Thursday for the second Test; that was underlined by Steyn and his partner-in-crime Morne Morkel, who picked up 16 of the 20 host wickets, the most by a visiting fast-bowling pair in a Test match in Sri Lanka.
However, Sri Lanka will look at senior batsman Kumar Sangakkara to deliver them a series-leveling win next week. The former captain established a Lankan record for amassing 1119 runs (ave.46.62) in the fourth innings (31) in Tests, obliterating the 1070 (ave.42.80) in 35 innings by Mahela Jayawardene. Sangakkara is now one of only 25 batsmen to have managed 1000 runs or more in the fourth innings in Tests.
Sangakkara, who retired from T20 Internationals and hinted that the 2015 World Cup might be his last tryst with ODIs, has been in sensational form this year. After scoring a gutsy 76, which gave Sri Lanka hope in their chase of 370, the stylish left-handed batsman became the first batsman to score 1000 runs in Tests in 2014. He has so far piled up 1036 runs (ave.86.33) in seven Tests. Sangakkara has scored over 1000 runs in Tests five times in his career and has now joined the likes of Matthew Hayden, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting. Sachin Tendulkar has achieved the milestone six times in his illustrious career.
The rest of the series could well come down to a man-to-man battle between Steyn and Sangakkara, two of the greatest cricketers of this generation.