Mahela Shines in Lord’s Gloom

On a gloomy Sunday at Lord’s, Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene’s century illuminated his side’s much improved second innings, with the tourists closing 22 ahead with four wickets remaining, providing a slither of a hope of a favourable outcome.

Long regarded a first innings specialist, Jayawardene embodied a bullish spirit in a superb rearguard, although the trademark wristy touches to leg and crashing cover drives were as evident as always. Leaning on useful knocks from Farveez Maharoof and Tillekaratne Dilshan, Jayawardene’s 119 took Sri Lanka into a slender lead before he was an unlucky victim of a poor umpiring decision late in the day.

Resuming on 183 for three, and partnered by nightwatchman Maharoof, Jayawardene opened up confidently but the threat of the swinging ball in overcast conditions almost accounted for his own wicket early in the day. Having progressed to a steady fifty, from 98 balls, Jayawardene was spilt in the slips by Andrew Strauss, who put down his second catch of the match. Maharoof too survived a scare, although Paul Collingwood’s drop was not quite as glaring as Strauss’.

Growing in confidence, Maharoof reached his fifty with a hooked six into the stands and then unleashed several fluent cover-drives off Sajid Mahmood. Eventually however he picked out Kevin Pietersen in the covers, possibly playing a little too far away from his body. Maharoof’s application with the bat – foot forward, hit through the line – should be noted by several more senior members of the tourists, even if his bowling (supposedly his stronger skill) was a disappointment.

Coming in after a 113-run fourth wicket stand, Thilan Samaraweera again found Mahmood’s pace and movement too high a mountain to conquer, and a meek cut found Geraint Jones’ gloves behind the stumps. His dismissal left Sri Lanka 303 for five and still 47 adrift of making England bat again.

Any hopes of the home team sealing a win this evening were soon quashed by Jayawardene, who continued to drive serenely and pull without fear to record his 14th Test century – going to the hundred mark thanks to four overthrows as he scampered a desperate single. Dilshan proved another reliable partner and the pair eased themselves towards a lead, for the first time in the match. Interspersed by several breaks for bad light, which thus broke up the momentum of the England attack, their partnership of 68 gave Sri Lanka something that constituted a lifeline.

However when the heads go down in the field, there is only one man for the job. Andrew Flintoff, the true man for all seasons, steamed in following another stoppage for poor visibility and toppled the Sri Lankan captain. A rising delivery down the leg side appeared to clip Jayawardene’s glove: replays however clearly showed the ball only brushing his jumper. Unfortunate the dismissal may be, but Freddie was instantly catapulted into superhero mode once more, his pumped up celebration indicating the importance of the breakthrough. Chamara Kapugedera joined Dilshan, who finished unbeaten on 39, and the pair saw Sri Lanka through to the close, when bad light once again had the final word.

The England bowlers consistently beat the outside edge, but were denied the wickets they deserved by a combination of conspiring luck and clumsy fielding. Sri Lanka now have something to bowl at, and if Dilshan can marshal the tail effectively, may yet to be able to salvage something from the game. Muralitharan will be again on the prowl, and a first (and probably last) mention on the Lord’s honours’ board in tempting. That said, England should really wrap up victory tomorrow, despite the threat of inclement weather.

England 551 for 6 declared

Sri Lanka 191 all out and 381 for 6 (following on)
WU Tharanga 52, KC Sangakkara 65, DPMD Jayawardene 119, MF Maharoof 59

Sri Lanka lead by 22 runs with 4 second-innings wickets in hand

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