Sri Lanka peg England back

Sri Lanka fought back in the final session of the opening day of the Second Test against England, though not without help from Umpiring error. The tourists had dominated the opening two sessions on a flat, easy-paced pitch, Michael Vaughan stroking a seemingly effortless 87, but the home side took 4 for 69 – half of which fell thanks to contentious decisions – to give themselves the edge, England once again being in possession of an abnormally long tail.

After winning the toss, something which has become an almost unthinkable luxury for him in recent times, Vaughan had little hesitation in opting to take first use of the surface. His side gave a debut to Stuart Broad ahead of Graeme Swann, and as expected Stephen Harmison replaced the injured Matthew Hoggard with James Anderson dropped. The home side had already announced that Upul Tharanga would take the place of the retired Sanath Jayasuriya, and England kept faith with Ravinder Bopara after his debut at Kandy, Owais Shah again being the unfortunate man to miss-out.

Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga found some swing in the early overs, but once again it did not last, and unlike Matthew Hoggard in the opening session at Kandy, the nicks did not come for them. Soon, Vaughan was unfurling leg-side flicks, cuts and cover-drives as Fernando replaced the openers and sprayed the ball liberally. Cook looked far less comfortable, and was extremely fortunate to survive when, on 8, he edged one of Fernando’s few decent deliveries into the slip-cordon. Unfortunately for Kumar Sangakkara, diving to his left, Mahela Jayawardene got perhaps half a thumb on the ball and diverted it out of his grasp.

The Sri Lankans’ ground-fielding, too, was suspect, and Vaughan benefited as several fielders allowed balls to escape their grasp and go for runs. Cook could not come close to matching his partner’s fluency and at one point was outscored 64 to 9. After being missed by the combination of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, though, he did not look like getting out. At lunch, England were healthily placed on 97 without loss.

The century partnership was completed shortly afterwards, and Vaughan appeared to be moving serenely towards a century all of his own. However, in the 40th over, bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, he flicked a short delivery to leg, only to see the ball jam between Jehan Mubarak’s legs at short-leg. The fielder managed to keep the ball between his knees, and triumphantly held it aloft. Vaughan could not believe it, and not surprisingly, either: in the Test at this very ground 7 years ago, which Vaughan was playing in, another England opener had fallen to a freak catch at short-leg, Marcus Trescothick sweeping a ball from Dinuk Hettiarachchi into the armpit of Russel Arnold’s shirt.

With Vaughan’s dismissal, the Sri Lankans were able to gain better control; Cook and Ian Bell were restricted to 35 runs in 20 overs. Bell had ground to 15 before he inside-edged a big off-break from Muralitharan into his thigh and was superbly caught, this time Mubarak taking full credit at short-leg. Immediately afterwards came the first of the controversies: Kevin Pietersen threw his bat at a wide delivery from Vaas, edged low, and appeared to be brilliantly caught, as Chamara Silva at third-slip grabbed, lost control but flicked up and saw Sangakkara grab the rebound. Pietersen stood his ground, and after a short delay Daryl Harper gave him out. Before Pietersen had reached the boundary, though, replays had been shown to viewers on TV and on the big screen, which fairly conclusively showed that Silva had pushed the ball into the ground as he grabbed it for the first time. Pietersen lingered, but unlike in the Test against India at Trent Bridge last summer, there was to be no reversal of the decision.

Cook and Collingwood ensured that the early work was not completely wasted, putting-on 66 and appearing in little difficulty against the old ball. When the new cherry was taken it was a different matter, and Collingwood edged one just out of Silva’s reach – the fielder got perhaps half a finger on it – at third-slip in the 81st over. In Malinga’s next, the 83rd, Cook was rapped on the pads by an inswinger. No matter that it barely pitched in line with leg-stump, never mind looked likely to be hitting, Harper raised his finger.

There was little doubt about the next wicket, though – Malinga produced a Lasith Special, the type he had used to grab Hoggard’s wicket at the denouement of the Kandy match. The ball pitched perfectly on the popping-crease, wobbled a touch in the air, and Bopara was no match, as most batsmen might well not be off their first delivery in rapidly fading light against Malinga’s unique action and 140 kph pace. Collingwood and Prior survived the remainder of the day, the light finally being offered with 3 overs unbowled, but at 258 for 5, the last serious batters at the crease, England will be disappointed with the outcome of the day. Doubly so given how different things might possibly have been with better Umpiring.

England 258 for 5
Alastair Cook 81, Michael Vaughan 87, Paul Collingwood 49*

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