Giles and Batty give England hope
Close Sri Lanka 331 and 99 for 5 lead England 235 (Butcher 51, Thorpe 43, Muralitharan 7-46) by 195 runs
Ashley Giles and Michael Vaughan celebrate Sanath Jayasuriya's wicket
© Getty Images 2003
Muttiah Muralitharan, an unlikely batting star yesterday, returned to type and tormented England with the ball at Galle, finishing with 7 for 46, his best figures on this ground. That restricted England's first innings to 235, and although Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty hit back, reducing Sri Lanka to 99 for 5 in their second innings, the overall lead of 195 is assuming ominous proportions for England, who will have to face Murali again in the final innings of the match on a pitch taking increasing amounts of turn.
The first two sessions belonged to Murali. There was an air of inevitability as he mowed his way through England's inexperienced middle and lower order with a magical spell of spin bowling - which included his 50th Test wicket against England. Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe, the overnight batsmen, did their best to resist him with a third-wicket partnership of 75, but the danger signals were all too apparent.
Had Sri Lanka's fielders - and umpire Daryl Harper - been more alert, England would have been even deeper in the mire. In the space of eight deliveries in the first hour, Butcher was reprieved twice and Thorpe once, and Sri Lanka's frustration was plain to see, especially when Murali threw the ball to the ground in anger after dropping Butcher off his own bowling.
But after England's trial by spin, it was the seam of Chaminda Vaas that made the breakthrough, as Thorpe was trapped lbw for 43 by a ball that was angling into middle and leg (142 for 3). One run later, and Paul Collingwood had completed an unhappy first Test innings, when Murali found the outside edge, and Sanath Jayasuriya snaffled an excellent one-handed catch at slip.
Murali was rampaging and England were unable to resist. Andrew Flintoff tried to play himself in, but was caught napping when he played back to a big-turning offbreak and was given out leg-before for 1. Then Chris Read fell for a duck to become Murali's fifth wicket of the innings, Tillakaratne scooping up a one-handed chance at bat-pad (155 for 6).
As the wickets tumbled and the run rate dried up, the pressure piled onto Butcher's shoulders, and while he managed to keep Murali at bay, he fell to Jayasuriya shortly after lunch. Attempting to cut a ball too close to his body, he nicked it to Kumar Sangakkara for a hard-fought 51 (177 for 7).
Batty hung around for 41 balls, and scored a gutsy 12, including a sweep for six off Kumar Dharmasena. But in his next over, Dharmasena got his man when Batty clipped him to Jayasuriya at leg slip (183 for 8). Giles whacked Dharmasena for six over mid-on to bring up the 200, and then repeated the shot in Jayasuriya's next over. But when he tried to do the same against Murali, he picked out Marvan Atapattu on the midwicket boundary (201 for 9).
Richard Johnson and Matthew Hoggard put on a valuable 27 to give the total some respectability, including two meaty sixes over midwicket by Johnson. He perished, though, going for another big shot, as Atapattu took his second catch on the boundary.
England trailed by 96 runs and needed to make early inroads, and Giles did just that. Jayasuriya edged a well-flighted delivery to Marcus Trescothick at first slip, who did well to latch on to a sharp chance at the third attempt (26 for 1). Atapattu and Sangakkara were then made to work hard for their runs, as the bowlers built up the pressure and gave little away. Little urgency was shown by either batsmen, even though Sangakkara slowly began to up the tempo with a couple of elegant cuts for four off Hoggard.
Muttiah Muralitharan appeals for another victim
© Getty Images 2003
Just as Sri Lanka seemed to be grinding their way to a big second-innings lead, two wickets in five balls dented their progress and sparked off a mini-collapse. Atapattu drove Giles into the body of Collingwood at silly point and set off for a risky single. Collingwood turned and chased the ball, and as the batsmen hesitated, he returned to Read and Sangakkara was run out by miles (72 for 2).
The mix-up must have affected Atapattu, as in the next over he was outfoxed by Batty. Atapattu danced down the track, but completely missed a straight one and Read stumped him (72 for 3). Suddenly England had a spring in their step. Batty gave them more heart when he trapped Tillakaratne leg-before. Padding up to a quicker one, Tillakaratne was hit in front of middle and given out by Harper to complete a miserable match with the bat (78 for 4).
Thilan Samaraweera was next to go when he edged Giles to Trescothick. The ball flew off the bat, hit Read's right glove, and Trescothick was alert enough to take his second juggled catch of the innings - this time at the second attempt (85 for 5). Vaas and Mahela Jayawardene shut up shop for the last ten overs, but it was England who finished the stronger. They were understandably buoyant after their impressive fightback, but there is still much for them to do to save, let alone win, this intriguing Test match.