Muralitharan back in action as Sri Lanka are bowled out cheaply
The joy that swept through the Sri Lankan camp when it was announced Muttiah Muralitharan was fit to play was quickly dissipated as the England bowlers worked steadily through the batting order.
When the morning rain eventually relented and Nasser Hussain had won his fourth toss in 23 attempts, the bowlers made up for lost time by hustling out the Sri Lankans for 162. The pitch, with its steep bounce, was tailor-made for Andrew Caddick, and the tall Somerset pace man did not spurn the opportunity it offered him. Despite Murali's appearance in the attack before the close, the England openers survived until stumps.
Play could not get under way until 1.40pm, and within nine overs of the start, Sri Lanka had lost two wickets. Matthew Hoggard had struggled to match the consistency of Caddick, tending to over-pitch - the preferable of the two possible errors. However, he found a beauty that Marvan Atapattu had to play, touching it to Alec Stewart behind the wicket.
A scoreboard that read 23 for one read 23 for two just four balls later. Caddick had earlier rapped Sanath Jayasuriya a painful blow on the hand. Now he found the edge and Stewart poached the catch from in front of first slip.
There was a crying need for the Sri Lankans to stiffen their resistance, and Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara duly did so. With Caddick resting and the other bowlers unable to maintain quite the same sustained hostility, the batsmen settled in to offer evidence of their attractive strokeplay.
Jayawardene, in particular, looked in elegant form and scored the bulk of the runs in a productive third-wicket partnership with Sangakkara. They had added 53 runs and were promising more riches when Sangakkara played the most appalling shot at a wide ball from Andrew Flintoff. He did well to reach it (or not!) without any apparent foot movement to present Stewart with his 200th victim as a Test wicket-keeper.
Before the hundred had been posted, Aravinda de Silva forced Hoggard off the back foot straight into the gully, to be followed to the pavilion 14 balls later by Jayawardene, who offered Flintoff a regulation catch at second slip off the deserving Caddick. The same pair combined on the stroke of tea to bring about the downfall of Russel Arnold so that the tourists took an uncomfortable break on 108 for six.
Chaminda Vaas joined Hashan Tillakaratne after tea to play with a good deal of commonsense before two wickets fell in the space of four balls to set Sri Lanka back on their heels once again.
There was a suspicion of an inside edge as Tillakaratne was given out lbw to Alex Tudor before Nuwan Zoysa hooked high to deep fine-leg where Hoggard waited patiently for the ball to descend into his hands.
Vaas proved admirably adhesive and found an equally determined partner in Charitha Buddika. They were not able to increase the scoring rate significantly, but did slow the rate at which the bowlers were taking wickets. Their stubborn partnership came to an end when Vaas played on to another wide ball from Flintoff.
Muralitharan faced one ball to which he played an extraordinary one-handed drive. But next over, as Buddika tried to protect him from the bowling, the final wicket was sacrificed. They tried to steal a single that was never there off the last ball as Buddika tried to keep the strike and Caddick and Tudor effected the inevitable run out that ended the innings.
The England openers had seven overs to face, the fifth of which was bowled by Muralitharan. From the fifth ball, he found the outside edge of Michael Vaughan's bat only to see Jayawardene fail to grasp the chance at slip. Vaughan went on to score his one thousandth Test run, as the England batsmen safely negotiated the brief period of play that concluded in brilliant sunshine.