Muralitharan takes the shine off England's day
Close England 97 for 2 trail Sri Lanka 331 (Sangakkara 71, Jayasuriya 48, Samaraweera 45, Giles 4-69) by 234 runs
Muttiah Muralitharan hits out during his whirlwind 38
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An inspired allround display from Muttiah Muralitharan took the gloss off what was otherwise a hard-working and productive display from England on the second day at Galle. Murali scored a whirlwind 38 from 37 balls to help Sri Lanka recover from 239 for 7 to reach a useful 331 all out. Then he removed Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick late in the day, and England closed on 97 for 2.
Vaughan will be disappointed that England surrendered their strong position after a fruitful morning session, in which they took charge with three wickets. But after losing the toss yesterday, they could still take satisfaction from their efforts after a long and tiring day - and this time one with no breaks for rain.
At the start, all Sri Lankan eyes and hopes were on Kumar Sangakkara, their one remaining specialist batsman. He was in sublime touch on Tuesday evening, and soon brought up his fifty with some extravagant shots off Ashley Giles, in particular. Vaughan turned early to his spin pairing of Giles and Gareth Batty, but the Sri Lankans remained keen to impose themselves, as Thilan Samaraweera showed when he danced down the track and slammed Batty over midwicket for four.
It was the new ball that did the trick for England. With his very first delivery, Richard Johnson found the perfect line and length to trap Sangakkara lbw for 71 (202 for 5), as he played back and across. And when Samaraweera chased and edged a wide one from Andrew Flintoff, England were well on top (238 for 6).
Upul Chandana battled hard for his 21, but with Flintoff on a roll, Chandana was adjudged lbw by Daryl Harper, although the ball appeared to be skimming over the top of middle stump. Sri Lanka, who had packed their middle order with spinning allrounders with a view to a quick victory, were beginning to regret their shortage of specialist batsmen.
But Kumar Dharmasena and Chaminda Vaas held up England's progress with a handy partnership worth 40 stubborn runs, which was ended by Batty's first wicket of the match. Dharmasena tried to sweep but missed the ball, which pitched outside off and hit him in line, and he was adjudged lbw by Venkat (279 for 8).
It was a deserved wicket for Batty, who, like Matthew Hoggard, had bowled tirelessly but without any luck while Sri Lanka pushed towards 300. And Batty got more reward when Dinusha Fernando, on his Test debut, prodded forward and edged a low chance to Paul Collingwood at short leg, who took his third catch on his debut (291 for 9).
England were thrilled at the prospect of restricting Sri Lanka to less than 300, but they didn't bank on Murali. Before this series, they probably didn't spend much time fretting over his batting talents, but a last-wicket stand of 40 between Murali and Chaminda Vaas kept a frustrated England waiting in the field.
Murali immediately enlivened the crowd by slapping his first ball over mid-off for four, and then he signalled the 300 with a huge straight six off Batty. He flicked Batty over mid-on for another four, and Vaughan was beginning to get a little edgy. He brought back Flintoff to finish the job off, but he couldn't. Murali top-edged him over the slips for two fours in consecutive balls, and continued to frustrate the bowling with his unconventional style. He finally fell when he edged Giles to Chris Read, but he was smiling all the way to the pavilion, knowing England would have an uncomfortable final session.
Trescothick and Vaughan made a confident start, though, as they cruised to a fifty partnership with little fuss. Vaughan started off with a bang, creaming Fernando through midwicket and then straight past him in successive balls. Trescothick started more sedately, but then stamped his authority. He twice punched Fernando through the covers for four, and followed that up with a sumptuous straight-drive for four more.
Andrew Flintoff celebrates the wicket of Upul Chandana
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But it wasn't long before Hashan Tillakaratne turned to that man Murali, and immediately things started to happen. Vaughan was lucky to survive an lbw shout on 18 when he miscued a sweep shot and was hit in front of middle, but Trescothick wasn't quite so fortunate - in fact he copped a rotten decision from Daryl Harper.
Murali fizzed down a quicker one which turned sharply and beat Trescothick's forward prod. Sangakkara collected the ball cleanly, and made a token shriek as an appeal for caught-behind, and to some astonishment, Harper gave him out (56 for 1). And worse was to come when Vaughan padded up to a vicious offcutter and was bowled through his legs. The ball pitched way outside off, then spun back underneath Vaughan's front leg, and clipped the top of off stump (67 for 2).
Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe averted any collapse, as they held firm and made sure England stayed well and truly in the game with a watchful 30-run partnership. Butcher and Thorpe accepted the offer of bad light with a few overs remaining, with all to play for tomorrow in this close contest.