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England look safe at the top as Proteas stumble

By Robin Scott-Elliott

South Africa's desire to challenge England's status as the world's No 1 side is in danger of being exposed once again by an inability to win their home series.

They have not recorded a series success on their own soil for three years and facing a deficit already worth 426 with two days remaining of the second Test against Sri Lanka have plenty of batting to do if the tourists are not to level this three-match contest.

Yesterday, Kumar Sangakkara's century — following three runs in his three previous innings — appeared to have ushered the Test beyond Smith's side. Sangakkara put on 104 with Dinesh Chandimal for the sixth wicket, the debutant wicketkeeper making a second half-century of the match, to bar South Africa's route back into the contest after they had glimpsed an opening with the tourists 141 for five.

Sri Lanka have never won a Test in South Africa, but Sangakkara's 28th century in his 105th Test offers them a rare opportunity. The former captain took full advantage of being dropped by Smith when he had just three runs to his name to make 108 before failing to hit Imran Tahir over Smith at deep mid-on. Sri Lanka closed on 256 for seven.

The lack of an outstanding challenger to England's lofty standing was also suggested by events in Melbourne where after three days of the opening Test between Australia and India a see-saw game lay in the balance.

Australia ended day three 230 ahead with two second-innings wickets in hand. Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey bailed out the younger players who have replaced them higher up the order, Ponting (60) scoring his second half-century of the game and putting on 115 with Hussey after Australia had stumbled to 27 for four.

Hussey finished the day on 79 not out, an innings that may have saved the 36-year-old's Test career (he's a year Ponting's junior).

Ponting had come into the game with his future also in grave doubt, but the former captain has no desire to see his 16-year Test career come to an end.

“If I feel like I've got support in the dressing room that's all that really matters to me,” he said. “I want to do the best I can to get this Australian team back to a bit higher ranked than we are at the moment.”

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