England hold on for a nailbiting draw
England 235 and 210 for 9 (Butcher 54, Collingwood 36) drew with Sri Lanka 331 and 226
Daryl Harper checks his light meter as Ashley Giles looks on
© Getty Images 2003
England held on for a fighting draw in what was a tense finish to a closely-fought opening Test against Sri Lanka at Galle. After battling efforts from Mark Butcher, Paul Collingwood and the lower order, the umpires offered England the light with four overs to go and nine wickets down.
The weather certainly came to their rescue, but England's draw represented an impressive display of tough concentration and commitment to the cause, especially against Muttiah Muralitharan on a wearing pitch. And as always in these situations, England will feel like champions and take plenty of heart with them to the next Test. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will be ruing their inability to finish the job off, and their slow batting on the fourth day.
After Collingwood was out on the stroke of tea for a gutsy 36, England were staring down the barrel at 170 for 7. But Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty made sure the floodgates didn't open. They scrapped it out together for valuable 50 minutes after the tea break, before Batty threw all his hard work away in a moment of madness to give England the wobbles again. He gifted Murali another wicket when he played a vile heave across the line and was bowled middle stump (204 for 8). Batty stayed on his knees for a few seconds, realising the foolishness of such an irresponsible shot at such a crucial time.
The light slowly deteriorated, the umpires continually checked their metres, but the show went on. Richard Johnson curbed his attacking instincts and admirably played one big block for 35 balls. But with seven overs remaining, he played on to Murali trying to leave the ball, and it was all down to Giles and Matthew Hoggard to save the day as the tension mounted.
Giles refused to buckle under the pressure, and took the brunt of the strike. The umpires continued to deliberate on the conditions at the end of every over, and after what felt like an eternity for England, they offered the light - and the batsmen were off in a shot. Giles finished with an invaluable 17 not out, and as he looked up to the darkening skies, he knew his side had done enough to escape with a hard-earned and exciting draw.
From the moment Dinusha Fernando resumed play with the new ball this morning, England realised they were up against it. Michael Vaughan was never allowed to settle as Fernando worked him over outside off stump. He squirted an attempted leave through third man for four, and after one sweet pull through midwicket, he propped forward to an immaculate full-length outswinger, and Hashan Tillakaratne at first slip grabbed the edge at the second attempt (16 for 1).
Marcus Trescothick was in no mood to be dominated. He cracked a half-volley from Chaminda Vaas through the covers, and helped to put a dent in Fernando's figures with a bullet of a cut shot. But his positive intent proved his downfall, when he danced down the track to Sanath Jayasuriya, failed to make contact and was bowled straight through the gate for 24 (62 for 2).
Murali by this stage had barely bothered to warm up, but he was never going to be kept out of the limelight for long. Sure enough, he popped up with the prize scalp of the morning. Graham Thorpe was easing into his stride when he badly misread Murali's doosra, and top-edged a simple chance to Vaas, who nonetheless made a meal of it as he ran in from mid-off (73 for 3).
Marcus Trescothick is bowled by Sanath Jayasuriya
© Getty Images 2003
Butcher and Collingwood provided stern resistance and ate up valuable time. Both batsmen showed good concentration and discipline against accurate bowling, led by Murali and Jayasuriya. But it wasn't all just blocking. Butcher launched Kumar Dharmasena for six over mid-on, and then stroked an elegant straight drive off Murali to bring up a well-deserved half-century. Collingwood provided good support at the other end, playing with a calm concentration, as the pair put together a valuable fifty partnership.
England's bid for survival was slowly starting to take shape, but back came Vaas to pierce a double dent in their progress. Vaas landed one on a perfect length outside off and Butcher nibbled at the ball as it went through to Kumar Sangakkara (125 for 4). In his next over, Andrew Flintoff drove him loosely to Tillakaratne at point for a duck, and suddenly England were hanging on at 125 for 5.
Chris Read refused to lie down and he swept his way to 14, including a six over midwicket. Collingwood continued to stand firm, putting away anything wide or short to the boundary. The clouds began to roll over the ground, but if England had any thoughts of scrambling to safety, that man Murali made them think again. Read propped forward to defend another big offspinner and gloved the ball via the pad to Mahela Jayawardene at short-leg (148 for 6).
Batty knuckled down to give Collingwood support, and found time to effortlessly clip Dharmasena over midwicket for six and thwack Murali past midwicket. The rain started to trickle down, but the umpires decided to stay on. It was a big call, as England lost their anchor in Collingwood. He pressed forward to Dharmasena and was superbly caught by Tillakaratne low to his left at silly point (170 for 7). It was a big blow, as shown by the Sri Lankans' shrieks of delight, and it set up a thrilling final session in which England somehow survived.