England v Sri Lanka, 2006

Third Test

England v Sri Lanka, 2006

Sa'adi Thawfeeq

At Nottingham, June 2, 3, 4, 5. Sri Lanka won by 134 runs. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: J. Lewis.

England came into the final Test expected to complete a 2-0 series win. Instead, they stumbled to a four-day defeat as Sri Lanka levelled the series. The reasons for England's downfall were two-fold. At last, a dry pitch and bright, sunny weather made Sri Lanka feel at home. And then there was Muralitharan.

Eight years after demolishing England at The Oval with 16 for 220 - the fifth-best match analysis in Test history - there came another act of smiling assassination. Armed now with the doosra, cleverly mixed in with his off-breaks, Muralitharan wreaked havoc. He took 11 for 132, including eight for 70 in the second innings, the best figures in a Trent Bridge Test, beating eight for 107 by B. J. T. Bosanquet 101 years before. When he snaffled the first seven wickets on the fourth afternoon, Muralitharan was within tantalising reach of perhaps the greatest of all statistical bowling feats: the all-ten in a Test achieved by Jim Laker and matched by Anil Kumble. But Kapugedera prevented that with an athletic run-out, aiming at a single stump from midwicket.

Watching the destruction from square leg was umpire Darrell Hair, who tainted Muralitharan's career by calling him for throwing at Melbourne in 1995-96. But since the ICC's ruling that bowlers could straighten their arms by 15 degrees during delivery - nothing less being visible to the naked eye - Muralitharan had been free to use his doosra, so Hair looked on, whether in despair or wonderment. Some one-time critics had been won over. Former England captain Nasser Hussain, now a television commentator, declared that "There is no shame in being bowled out by a genius." And the current Sri Lankan captain, Jayawardene, urged everyone to enjoy Muralitharan while they could; already 34, he might not tour England again.

As well as his 11 wickets, Muralitharan contributed a robust 33 off 29 balls to a last-wicket stand of 62 with Vaas, which lifted Sri Lanka to a respectable first-innings 231. Throughout the series, England had a galling inability to stop the tail wagging. At Lord's, Sri Lanka's last two partnerships had added 61 in the first innings and 116 in the second to save the match; here, the final two wickets put on 92. The principal thorn in England's flesh was Vaas, who compensated for taking only five wickets in three Tests by accumulating 184 runs in six innings. He was not out four times, failed only once, and put some of his colleagues to shame with his correct strokeplay and perfect judgment against the swing and seam of Hoggard and co.

If England allowed Sri Lanka to slip out of their grasp, it was through this weakness. Jayawardene had won a good toss, but the top order floundered again. Eight wickets fell for 139, with Jon Lewis of Gloucestershire (who was deemed more likely to enjoy the conditions than Mahmood) bowling Vandort in his first over in Test cricket, and Flintoff producing his best spell of the series. Then came the fightback, and from then on Sri Lanka called the shots. England needed a substantial lead, as they would have last use of a wearing pitch. But they batted poorly, only Collingwood digging in (for nearly four hours), and conceded a two-run first-innings lead.

Sri Lanka built on that minuscule advantage, with the 19-year-old Kapugedera scoring a maiden Test fifty, and the last three wickets adding 84 before Panesar wrapped them up with his first five-wicket return in a Test innings. England's eventual target was 325 - more than they had ever made in a winning run-chase at home. Even so, Trescothick and Strauss started with such momentum that Sri Lanka had a nervy look about them.

Their opening stand mounted to 84 in 27 overs before Trescothick failed to pick the doosra and was bowled. That began a sequence in which Muralitharan took eight for 26 in 105 balls. Despite his brilliance, though, a limp capitulation for 190 was the culmination of too much soft cricket from England over the previous few weeks. The fact was that they should never have allowed him the luxury of bowling last with a platform of runs to defend and everything to play for.

Strauss was in fine touch, and looked good for a century, but he fell when the ball rebounded from Sangakkara's gloves to slip. Pietersen, the only batsman likely to tame Muralitharan, had needed pain-killing injections for a torn hamstring and made little headway before gloving a deflection to short leg, where Dilshan took the first of three outstanding catches. The next was Flintoff, for a duck, and the third Collingwood, who suffered a freak dismissal when the ball ballooned off his boot. Jones's wretched batting form continued when he was bowled by the doosra, victim number seven. Then Hoggard was run out, ruining Muralitharan's chances of taking all ten. He did manage an eighth before meeting unexpected resistance from Panesar, who hit a happy 26 off 28 balls including three fours and a six off the master. In the end, it was the old warrior, Jayasuriya, finally playing a part in this series after his politically clouded comeback, who dismissed Panesar to complete a famous win.

It was clear that the captaincy was beginning to weigh heavily on Flintoff, who was no longer able to drag his men along as he did in India. His batting form suffered and, by the end of this match, he was limping from an old ankle injury which flared up and needed surgery.

For Sri Lanka, this was only their third Test win outside the subcontinent or Zimbabwe, after Napier in 1994-95 and The Oval in 1998. Victory was all the sweeter for a team in transition, and few could begrudge them their triumph.

Man of the Match: M. Muralitharan.

Men of the Series: England - K. P. Pietersen; Sri Lanka - M. Muralitharan.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack