Sri Lanka build large total

Sri Lanka batted superbly on the third day of the Second Test, losing just two wickets in a full day’s play (the first of the series – every previous day has been curtailed, usually by light but once by rain). Michael Vandort and captain Mahela Jayawardene both notched centuries, while Chamara Silva will be annoyed to fall 1 run short of a half-century with less than 4 overs remaining.

England’s only other success had come when Sidebottom claimed his third wicket, dismissing Vandort in the opening over of the second new ball. The rest of the day contained mostly effortless repelling of the bowlers from the three Sri Lankan batsmen who took to the crease, with bad deliveries, which came along often enough, usually dispatched to the boundary until Michael Vaughan began to push the field back.

Vandort had exactly 50 overnight, and started quickly, slamming 6 boundaries in the day’s opening 9 overs before playing a scoring stroke of different value, including three consecutive fours in Sidebottom’s 14th over. Shortly after this sequence Jayawardene completed his half-century. The seamers stuck to their task, however, and neither batsman was able to accelerate excessively. But Monty Panesar struggled once again, dragging down more deliveries than he would have liked, which Jayawardene especially invariably pounced on swiftly. He did turn some deliveries, beating the edge of both batsmen, but could not find the nicks.

Shortly before lunch, Vandort completed his century, a workmanlike affair which nonetheless managed to outpace the more assured Jayawardene. Kevin Pietersen, given an over just before the break, extracted plenty of turn himself, earning further bowling afterwards with the new ball on the horizon. The batsmen worked him around with no great difficulty, however, and Vaughan took the new ball at the first opportunity. Sidebottom struck with his fourth delivery, angling one into Vandort and straightening it back onto middle-and-leg. The batsman could not get his bat past the planted front leg and Daryl Harper had an easy decision.

England’s hopes of making the breakthrough count were dashed once again, though, as Silva copied his captain’s caution, without missing the occasional loose balls served to him. The tourists’ cause was not helped by the slow pitch: throughout the day, 5 or 6 balls at least fell just short of the slips and gullies, from seam and spin alike. Bowling short was largely a waste of effort, as the batsmen had so much time they could usually stand up and play virtually anything. Just as the close was approaching, however, both these rules found an exception: Stephen Harmison banged one in at Silva, who attempted to play something he perhaps should have ducked, and the ball took the handle of the bat and looped to Ravinder Bopara at gully. Jehan Mubarak survived the rest of the day, and the home side closed on 379 for 4, leading by 28.

They will know, however, that the last of their proven batting is now back in the hutch – bar the exceptional Jayawardene – as Mubarak is yet to score a Test half-century in 15 attempts; wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene averages just over 25; and after the dogged Chaminda Vaas there is little likely to come from Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan. The benign nature of the surface, though, could turn any of this on its head, and with the last of those names having a long rest after his 47.2 first-innings overs, any lead over 150 could see him put England under a deeply examining microscope. The tourists will have to hope they can run through the lower-order – the third new ball is available in 32 overs – and that the surface has not deteriorated significantly when their turn comes around again. Their chances of winning the game already appear remote.

England 351
Alastair Cook 81, Michael Vaughan 87, Paul Collingwood 52, Matthew Prior 79
Muttiah Muralitharan 5-116

Sri Lanka 379 for 4
Michael Vandort 138, Mahela Jayawardene 167*, Chamara Silva 49
Ryan Sidebottom 3-72

Sri Lanka lead by 28 runs with 6 first-innings wickets remaining

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