Murali gives Sri Lanka a late boost
Tea Sri Lanka 331 (Sangakkara 71, Jayasuriya 48, Samaraweera 45, Giles 4-69) v England
Andrew Flintoff celebrates the wicket of Upul Chandana
© Getty Images 2003
When England discussed the dangers Muttiah Muralitharan posed 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 took the shine off England's hard-working display in the field. Murali scored 38 from 37 balls to help Sri Lanka recover from 239 for 7 to reach a useful 331 all out.
England, on the other hand, will be disappointed after a fruitful morning session, in which they took charge with three wickets - but after losing the toss, they could still take some satisfaction with their efforts.
At the start of play, all Sri Lankan eyes had been on Kumar Sangakkara, their one remaining specialist batsman. He was in sublime touch on Tuesday evening, and soon showed the benefits of a good night's sleep by hoisting his fourth ball of the morning, from Ashley Giles, over long-on for six. He brought up his fifty soon afterwards by tickling Giles into the leg for a single.
After a three-over burst from Andrew Flintoff, who was steered for two fours through the gully by Thilan Samaraweera, England turned to their spin pairing of Giles and Gareth Batty. But the Sri Lankans remained keen to impose themselves, as 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 Flintoff, England were well on top (238 for 6).
But it didn't end there. Upul Chandana had 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.
Kumar Dharmasena and Chaminda Vaas held up England's progress with a handy partnership worth 40 stubborn runs, but that 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 judged 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, who took his third catch on debut, at short leg (291 for 9).
Murali immediately livened the crowd when he slapped his first ball over mid-off for four, and then he signalled the 300 with a huge straight six off Batty. He then flicked Batty over mid-on for another four, and Michael 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 he continued to frustrate the bowling with his unconventional style.
He finally fell when he edged Giles to Read, but he was smiling all the way to the pavilion, while Vaughan was pondering on what could have been. Tea was then taken, with England contemplating their reply to Sri Lanka's 331.