Rampant England in charge

Sri Lanka were left trailing by a mammoth 460 runs after two days of the first Test, with England reducing them to 91-6 in their first innings. Earlier, England had racked up a huge 551-6 declared, Kevin Pietersen equalling his highest Test score with a brilliant 158.

Sajid Mahmood also grabbed the sensational figures of 5-2-9-3 in his maiden Test spell, as the Sri Lankan batting lineup wilted in the face of some fiery swing bowling from the home side. Matthew Hoggard also claimed both openers, as the tourists were left floundering in response to England’s massive total.

Pietersen resumed the day on 54 not out, with Matthew Hoggard at the other end – there was to be no double-hundred for this nightwatchman, however, as he was cleaned up by a devious inswinging yorker from Chaminda Vaas for only seven. Vaas was the only one of the three Sri Lankan seamers to pose any danger today – Farveez Maharoof started brightly with three maidens, but soon returned to the poor standard he set for himself yesterday, while Nuwan Kulasekara was innocuous at best, and finished wicketless.

The lack of variation in the tourists’ bowling attack soon became evident, as Pietersen was able to settle back into the rhythm he had found yesterday evening with little trouble. Despite offering a catch to short extra cover off a no-ball from Maharoof late in the day, he had looked in impressively fluent form – this morning was no different, as he set about putting the bowlers off their rhythm with some startlingly unorthodox footwork.

He punished the inaccuracy of Maharoof, while Kulasekara’s slow-medium pace was regularly dispatched through the on-side, often from well outside off-stump. One particular forced drive down the ground for four, from more than two feet outside off, will have had the purists tying themselves in knots to comprehend. He also dealt cannily with the threat of Muttiah Muralitharan, regularly sweeping him along the ground for singles, whilst also manipulating the field superbly and allowing himself space to find the ropes frequently.

A knock from Pietersen wouldn’t have been complete without some mighty sixes, however, and two of them duly arrived – one in the morning session off Murali, and another even bigger one later on, off Tillekaratne Dilshan’s off-spin. With Pietersen all flashing drives and thunderous leg-side play, one could have been forgiven for barely noticing the quiet efficiency of Paul Collingwood at the other end – his 57 from 119 balls was a lesson in playing second fiddle to perfection. While Pietersen plundered and punished, Collingwood guided and grafted – aside from one lofted drive for four off Murali, he was a model of orthodoxy and correctness in picking up his third Test fifty.

The partnership between the two had reached 173 when Pietersen finally departed, to his 205th ball, as Chaminda Vaas got one to weave its way back in from outside off-stump and trap him lbw. By then, however, the damage had been done – and despite Murali’s dismissal of Collingwood five balls later with a vicious off-break, England were still very much in the driving seat, with the pitch still providing little help for the bowlers.

Captain Andrew Flintoff received a raucous reception from the crowd in his first home Test as captain, and duly obliged with a cameo of 33 not out from 29 balls, including two huge sixes of his own. The second of these proved the final act of the innings, as Flintoff deemed passing the 550 barrier the appropriate moment for a declaration. The decision came earlier than expected, and suspicion was that Flintoff wished to have a brief bowl at the Sri Lankans before tea – however, his plan was scuppered when the umpires decided tea should be taken early, at the innings break.

The onus was on Sri Lanka’s top order to produce once play restarted – with England’s top three batsmen having notched up 243 runs between them, a solid start was a must. Matthew Hoggard had other ideas, however, as he thudded one into Jehan Mubarak’s pads with the score still on zero. Sure enough, the finger went up, and Hoggard’s lethal ability to swing the ball into the left-hander had paid dividends once again. That was not the end of things, however, as Upul Tharanga padded up to another deadly inswinger, and went the same way as his opening partner.

This united Kumar Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardene at the crease, and with their side teetering on 21-2, a recovery was essential. Some careful strokeplay, and some generous bowling from Liam Plunkett, enabled them to reach 81 without any further losses – despite the best efforts of Plunkett and Andrew Flintoff, Sri Lanka’s two most experienced batsmen looked to be dragging their side out of the mire.

Then Sajid Mahmood was thrown the ball by his captain for the first time in Test cricket – the rest could well turn out to be history. Mahmood bowled an inspired debut spell, persuading Sangakkara to nick one behind in only his second over. Bowling a full ten miles an hour faster than any of the Sri Lankan seamers, he was soon celebrating again, as Thilan Samaraweera was beaten for pace and trapped in front.

England’s joy continued as Dilshan, anxious to get off the mark, took a run to cover, and his captain did not – Geraint Jones had collected Matthew Hoggard’s throw and whipped off the bails before Dilshan got anywhere near returning to his crease. Once Mahmood had sent a roaring 90mph inswinger crashing into the pads of 19-year-old debutant Chamara Kapugedera one ball later, Sri Lanka were 85-6, and the match was England’s to lose. Jayawardene remained unbeaten on 40 at stumps, but even he was dropped on 34 by Geraint Jones. Bad light curtailed play just after 6pm, with Sri Lanka’s prospects looking as bleak as the weather.

On a day when Kevin Pietersen proved once again that his gloriously unorthodox strokeplay is fast becoming one of world cricket’s most exciting sights, Sri Lanka also proved that their struggles against the moving ball in their warm-up games were no coincidence. Matthew Hoggard also proved that when it comes to swinging the new ball, he has few equals in world cricket; Paul Collingwood proved that he has what it takes to be the missing link in England’s bombastic middle-order; and, perhaps most importantly, Sajid Mahmood proved that England have another name to add to their growing battery of young, talented seam bowlers.

The contrast between the two sides could not have been more stark – England played the legendary genius of Muttiah Muralitharan with aplomb, while Sri Lanka once again failed to cope with a moving ball. One would have to wonder about their ability to deal with a stationary one if they continue to bat like this. There were no monsters in the pitch today, but Hoggard and Mahmood were the monsters under the bed of the youngsters in the Sri Lankan batting lineup – if England continue to perform like they did today in all aspects of the game, it will be a short series indeed.

England 551-6 dec
Kevin Pietersen 158, Marcus Trescothick 106, Alastair Cook 89, Paul Collingwood 57
Muttiah Muralitharan 3-158, Chaminda Vaas 2-124

Sri Lanka 91-6
Mahela Jayawardene 40*, Fareez Maharoof 6*
Sajid Mahmood 3-9, Matthew Hoggard 2-14

Cricket Web Players of the Day – Kevin Pietersen, 158 (205b, 19×4, 2×6) and Sajid Mahmood, 5-2-9-3

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