May 20, 2002

England complete remarkable recovery

As an event, Napoleon getting off Elba may have held rather more significance, but England's escape from the jam in which they found themselves here at Lord's on Saturday evening is an achievement in which they can take a fair measure of pride. Having failed to make half Sri Lanka's runs in their first innings, the home side were the subject of some stern criticism, with words like "crisis" and "Dad's Army" (again) appearing in the Sunday papers. As things stand, they are still on level terms after a two-day demonstration of steely resolve.

For the record, England declared at 529 for five, their first total above 500 for more than five years, leaving Sri Lanka needing an academic 250 to win off 17 overs. 13 of those were enough to convince both captains that the game was over, with the visitors on 42 for the loss of Marvan Atapattu, who was caught at short leg by Mark Butcher off Andrew Caddick for seven.

If Michael Vaughan was yesterday's hero, the accolade today belonged to Butcher, who knew, by the time he was run out for a painstaking 105, that England's remaining batsmen would have to make a fearful dog's dinner of things for Sri Lanka to snatch victory. They didn't, and Graham Thorpe's subsequent progression to 65, as well as securing his team, provided the best entertainment of the day.

After two days in the field Sri Lanka looked tired this morning, almost as though they were going through the motions. Both Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa regularly bowled deliveries that could safely be left alone, and having eschewed risk yesterday, neither Butcher nor Hussain was in the mood for extravagance. Butcher was fortunate to survive an appeal for a leg-side catch by wicket-keeper Sangakkara after he tried to glance Vaas. Replays showed he might have got the finest of edges; without their benefit umpire Harper ruled in the batsman's favour.

When Vaas made way for Perera at the pavilion end, Hussain pulled the first boundary of the morning to the Tavern. Butcher then brought the small Monday crowd to life by driving Zoysa to the rope at extra cover. Offered room on his pads, the Surrey left-hander took four more through mid-wicket, repeating the shot off Perera in the next over.

Zoysa was finally rested after an 11-over spell that cost just 21 runs, and it was Perera who made the breakthrough at the pavilion end, winning a staggering lbw decision against Hussain from umpire Harper. After pitching leg, the ball hit Hussain above the roll, and would surely have passed over the stumps. Hussain had made 68 (one six, six fours, 185 balls) and added 159 for the third wicket with Butcher.

England's 400 came up with a delightfully timed square cut by Thorpe off Buddika, a stroke he repeated four overs later, piercing what had seemed a non-existent gap in a packed offside field. Butcher progressed towards his century in singles, and got there by the same means, clipping Vaas to long leg. It was the Surrey left-hander's first first-class century at Lord's, included nine fours and came off 291 balls. Butcher was warmly applauded by a crowd that had grown steadily since the early stages of the day.

After Thorpe had snicked Buddika through the vacant slip area, Butcher took four more with a delightful late cut off Jayasuriya, but his downfall came in the same over. When Thorpe swept Jayasuriya to long leg, Butcher called for a risky third and was narrowly beaten by Vaas' throw. His 105 included 10 fours and came off 297 balls. He had also put on 60 with his Surrey colleague.

After taking a while to get off the mark, Crawley showed delightful touch as he glanced Vaas to the fine leg boundary. Thorpe went to his 50 with a pleasant push into the covers for a single. But as the session progressed the urgency of the cricket diminished; the Sri Lankans were clearly tiring after two and a half days in the field, and England were content to push ones and twos as they grew increasingly assured of safety.

The occasional boundary leavened the mood, with two classical sweeps, by Thorpe off Perera and Crawley off Jayasuriya, standing out. Thorpe was ultimately outwitted by de Silva, caught at mid-on as he failed to get on top of a drive. Stewart joined Crawley, and with their Test places to confirm both players set about batting Sri Lanka firmly out of the match. By tea the Mexican wave had made its first appearance of the series, a sure indication of the game's ultimate destiny.