Murali reclaims record, SL lead

On an historic day at Kandy, at times it seemed almost incidental that Sri Lanka edged into a position of strength in the First Test. Muttiah Muralitharan, after a short and perhaps unexpected delay, grabbed his 709th Test wicket (and shortly after his 710th) to reclaim the world record from Shane Warne. And amid speculation throughout the day, confirmed by the man at the close, Sanath Jayasuriya played his last Test innings before retirement. He blazed 78, his highest score for over 3 years. The upshot was that Sri Lanka, after conceding a first-innings lead of 93, wiped-off the deficit without loss and moved into a lead of 74, 8 second-innings wickets still standing.

Almost inevitably, the morning’s play was all about Muralitharan. With England’s tail already exposed and first-innings scores as good as on parity, a swift kill was expected. Ryan Sidebottom threw a spanner in the works, however, playing Murali remarkably well and having little difficulty against Dilhara Fernando, who could not find the reverse-swing of yesterday. Paul Collingwood was assured too, and slowly but surely they went about carving-out a lead. Murali beat the edge once or twice, but there were signs that batting had become easier compared to most of the opening two days.

Collingwood and Sidebottom added 57, forcing Sri Lanka to change tactic and take the second new ball. Chaminda Vaas instantly found some swing, and Lasith Malinga, who had not been able to get any reverse either, promptly extracted an edge with one that slid across Sidebottom. There was some doubt initially whether the ball had carried to Prasanna Jayawardene, but Umpire Asad Rauf hesitated only for a moment, and replays showed a clear catch. Malinga beat Matthew Hoggard’s edge with two extraordinary away-swingers that would have had the Yorkshire seamer licking his lips, but in no time Hoggard was hitting remarkably crisp strokes the like of which he has rarely managed in his Test career, including two phenomenal off-drives from his nemesis, Vaas. The home side’s mood was not helped when Sangakkara dropped him at first-slip off Malinga.

Suddenly, though, just as Sri Lanka were beginning to look ragged, the stadium was thrown into ecstasy. Murali was given the ball, just 7 overs old, and with his fourth delivery attempted an off-break which Collingwood read correctly, but which did not spin as expected. The ball beat the open-faced prod and crashed into the stumps, and the bowler’s almost ever-present smile widened further. Fireworks were released, team-mates celebrated, and the crowd screamed its delight. The moment seemed to galvanise the side: in his next over Hoggard was stumped by a mile dragging his foot out attempting a sweep, and 2 overs later Vaas was brought back and trapped James Anderson with his first delivery. England had a lead of 93, which would have been beyond their wildest dreams at the close yesterday, but it was ample evidence that the surface had eased. Sri Lanka saw off the 2 overs they had to face before lunch without difficulty.

To make matters worse for the tourists, Hoggard and Sidebottom could not find the swing of the first-innings. Both bowlers pitched full, and had some sharp cover fielding to thank for not conceding far more than 9 from the first 6 overs. The news was worse still when Hoggard’s back appeared to be causing him discomfort towards the end of his spell. James Anderson replaced him, and after 3 respectable overs his day was turned on its head. Jayasuriya had moved cautiously (by his standards) to 31 from 57 balls, but struck each delivery of Anderson’s 4th over to the boundary. All bar one were off-side, and the second was edged just out of Ian Bell’s reach at slip. Jayasuriya had a blitzkrieg half-century, only his second since Sri Lanka’s series in Pakistan in October and November 2004, a period during which he had already retired once.

Monty Panesar, introduced the over before Anderson, hit a decent line and length, but the two left-handed openers, Jayasuriya and the giant Michael Vandort, played him judiciously. Panesar failed to extract the turn he had in the first-innings, and did not toss the ball up as much as he might have either. By tea, the home side had knocked off most of the runs required to level the scores, and at 87 without loss would have been mightily relieved.

Hoggard was reintroduced after the break, having seemingly shaken-off his back niggle, and almost immediately resorted to bowling off-cutters, Matthew Prior coming up to the stumps promptly. Panesar wheeled away at the other end, but became frustrated as balls fell just out of reach of fielders and lbw appeals were turned-down – correctly, unlike Aleem Dar’s decision in favour of Sangakkara in the first-innings. Hoggard, too, thought he had Jayasuriya in his 2nd over after the interval, but Dar shook his head, though whether the ball was too high was debatable, and with no HawkEye that was the end of the story. Jayasuriya promptly pulled the next delivery for six to bring-up Sri Lanka’s hundred, and the home side were motoring.

Hoggard, however, is famed for his persistent qualities, and in his next over rapped Jayasuriya on the pads once again. This time, despite a marginal possibility that the ball pitched outside the leg-stump, Dar raised his finger. Jayasuriya was gone for the last time at this level, his 78 off 106 deliveries enough to put his final average over 40, and to play the familiar role of mainstay in an opening stand, of 113 on this final occasion. Vandort ploughed on, and Sangakkara immediately looked as impenetrable as he has almost all year, having little trouble with Hoggard’s cutters, Panesar’s off-breaks, or Sidebottom’s gun-barrel straight line-and-length. Even Ravinder Bopara was given a bowl as the light begun to fade, but he caused few problems.

Just as the home side were thinking of making the close one-down, however, Anderson persuaded Vandort to aim an expansive drive to a wide delivery. The batsman could not reach the ball properly, and edged into the slip cordon, where Bell dived to his left and took a very fine catch indeed. Just a single over was possible thereafter, and when play was called-off Sri Lanka were 167 for 2, 74 ahead. They will look for a minimum of 125 more tomorrow, and England are unlikely to feel comfortable chasing much more than 200. With the world record safely in his pocket, Murali will be able to focus fully on completing a victory to go with the landmark, while in the meantime extending his tally further and further where no Test cricketer has ever gone before.

Sri Lanka 188
Kumar Sangakkara 92, Prasanna Jayawardene 51
Matthew Hoggard 4-29, Monty Panesar 3-46

England 281
Ian Bell 83, Paul Collingwood 45
Muttiah Muralitharan 6-55

Sri Lanka 167 for 2
Michael Vandort 49, Sanath Jayasuriya 78,

Sri Lanka lead by 74 runs with 8 second-innings wickets remaining

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