June 15, 2002

Stewart ton and Vaas milestone as England fans cheer on two fronts

A large proportion of the crowd at Old Trafford would have thoroughly enjoyed their day. They watched England's footballers win their World Cup tie against Denmark 3-0 on the big screen and returned from the car park to their seats to see England's cricketers reach 500 for the third consecutive innings for the first time in Tests. Among other notable events of the day was an innings of 123 from Alec Stewart and Chaminda Vaas taking his 200th Test wicket. At the close, Sri Lanka were 130 for one.

Play began an hour late after mopping up the deluge of the previous evening. The partnership of Stewart and Tudor continued in regal fashion for another half dozen overs with Alex Tudor picking up useful runs to add to the partnership. He played one savage carve through the off side for four off Vaas but, in trying to repeat the shot, slashed a catch to Russel Arnold who took it well at slip.

The fact that hordes of spectators began leaving the ground at this point had nothing to do with disappointment at Tudor's demise. They were off to catch the kick-off. Stewart is a well-known football fan, but he kept his mind on the job in hand. It could be said that he acknowledged England's first goal in Japan by stroking a boundary off the very next ball, but there was an inevitability about the way he went to his fifteenth Test century.

He spent no time at all in what could have been nervous nineties. He was on 86 as he faced the start of an over from Dilhara Fernando. Four balls and four fours later, he was raising his bat in acknowledgement of his ton, from 146 balls with a dozen previous boundaries. He makes a habit of picking occasions for his centuries at Old Trafford. Last year it was in his one hundredth Test on the Queens Mother's one hundredth birthday. Some had forecast that this would be his last Test, but his form would make it difficult to dispense with his services now.

He was helped by a not inconsiderable contribution from Ashley Giles who helped him put on 102 for the eighth wicket to establish a new record for England against Sri Lanka. Not many of Giles's 45 runs came in front of square, but his innings blossomed to produce the runs that he has frequently promised.

Giles eventually fell to a juggling catch by Kumar Sangakkara off the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan, and Stewart went to a bat/pad catch on the off side from the same bowler who has a happy knack of continuing to take wickets. It was Fernando who took the last, finding an inswinging yorker that was too good for Matthew Hoggard with his first ball of a new spell.

The combination of the weather and the length of England's innings had effectively excluded Sri Lanka from winning the match and squaring the series. The Sri Lankans did not appear to appreciate the fact as they set off at nearly five an over. Arnold slashed the first two balls he received from Hoggard over slips to the boundary, and added a third to force the bowler out of the attack after two overs costing 17 runs including four no balls.

He was replaced by Andrew Flintoff who proceeded to bowl a fiery spell that did not produce any wickets but accounted for the unfortunate Marvan Atapattu who was struck on the right index finger and left the field for an x-ray after writhing in pain. Early indications are that there is a slight fracture, but it could be an old injury.

Sangakkara replaced him to take the score along at a healthy rate. Andrew Caddick withdrew from the fray with a side strain that caused him to depart mid-over, but Tudor replaced him bowling like a man with a point to prove. Circumstances caused him to be under-bowled at Edgbaston.

It was Tudor who took the one wicket to fall when Arnold, having reached an attractive fifty from 53 balls with his tenth boundary. He went to hook a short ball, got a top edge and sent a steepling catch to deep backward square leg where Michael Vaughan was precisely positioned to take the catch.

Giles plied his left-arm spin from the Warwick Road end, seeking assistance from the rough of the footholds, but the batsmen survived with only a few alarms to end the day in bright sunshine still 382 runs behind.