England shade truncated day

Sri Lanka wasted a chance to force home their advantage against England on a truncated opening day of the Third and final Test in Galle. After reaching 132 for 2 at tea, they lost 2 wickets in a 11-over final session. Just 55 overs were bowled in the day, as the start time had already been put back the previous evening due to damp ground, and a proposition from the officials to cut the lunch interval was rejected by the players, perhaps understandably in humidity that reached 97%.

Sri Lanka had recalled Tillakaratne Dilshan for Jehan Mubarak, and also handed a debut to left-arm seamer Chanaka Welegedara, which was perhaps a little harsh on fellow left-armer Sujeewa de Silva, with the squad for the whole series but now overlooked. England, as expected, recalled the fit-again Matthew Hoggard in place of Stuart Broad. Michael Vaughan won his second consecutive toss and elected to field first, hoping his Yorkshiremen opening bowlers could make the most of the humidity and moisture in the pitch.

There was indeed plenty of swing and seam for Ryan Sidebottom and Matthew Hoggard early on. Sidebottom, however, beat the edge repeatedly but often moved it too much to find the nicks, and Hoggard, after a promising start, conceded 13 from his 4th over and did not hit his straps at all for the rest of the day. Stephen Harmison replaced him in the 10th and England should have had their first wicket in his opening over, as Upul Tharanga drove airy-fairily at one outside off, edged into the packed slip-cordon and Paul Collingwood floored the simplest of chances.

The Sri Lankans’ luck lasted just 3 deliveries, however, as in Sidebottom’s next over Asad Rauf upheld an lbw appeal against Michael Vandort from a ball which would clearly have passed well over the stumps. It seemed someone was playing badminton with the batsmen’s fortune when, 3 overs later, Hoggard induced an edge from Sangakkara which Prior held, but Daryl Harper refused to raise his finger.

Next over it was Rauf’s turn again, though this one had at least looked good in real-time. Harmison finally got Tharanga, rapping him on the pads with one which would have crashed into middle-and-off. The nature of Harmison’s angle, though, makes it almost impossible for him to correctly win an lbw against a left-hander from over-the-wicket, and sure enough replays showed the ball had pitched outside leg-stump.

The remaining 3.2 overs of the session yielded 27 runs, and though Monty Panesar opened after lunch and immediately found a better line and length than he has for most of the series, plus some turn, the Sri Lankans were untroubled throughout. In 26 overs they scored 61 runs, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene looking imperturbable as they have done so many times in recent years. Despite the lack of overs, Michael Vaughan still felt compelled to turn to Ravinder Bopara and Paul Collingwood. Cloud begun to build in the sultry atmosphere, and with the scheduled close being after sunset the final session was always likely to be a short one.

England made it count, as Sidebottom and Harmison found fine lengths, conceding just 8 runs in the 10 overs they bowled in tandem. Sangakkara, uncharacteristically, gifted his wicket to a nothing delivery, off the opening ball of Harmison’s opening over of the session. The ball was short of a length, outside off, and the batsman went for a lazy pull, top-edged, and found Panesar at deep-square-leg. The fielder, as ever, celebrated with gusto, while the bowler looked merely relieved. It was not long before the Umpires were consulting about the light, but just before they went off Chamara Silva managed to lose his wicket. Once again the ball from Harmison did little, but Silva played down the wrong line and edged a simple catch to Ian Bell at first-slip.

Panesar bowled one more over before the light was offered, and though Dilshan managed a convincing cut to the point boundary his side know they have thrown away the initiative. Jayawardene remained untroubled, but he and his partner know a substantial contribution from them will be required tomorrow to get their side back in pole position. No-one knows quite how the pitch will play for the rest of the match, but it is unlikely that Muttiah Muralitharan will find negligible assistance. If his batsmen can put 300 on the board, he might well be able to pose England substantial problems.

Sri Lanka 147 for 4
Kumar Sangakkara 46, Mahela Jayawardene 51*
Stephen Harmison 3-28

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