England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, 4th day June 19, 2011

Sangakkara keeps Sri Lanka hoping

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Kumar Sangakkara entered the Rose Bowl Test as a visibly reluctant captain, but by the close of the fourth day's play, he had tapped back into his leadership qualities to emerge as Sri Lanka's only realistic hope of escaping the match with a draw. By the close he was 44 not out from 111 balls, already his best score of the series, and as coach Stuart Law cast one optimistic eye to the heavens, he admitted that anything less than a century would probably spell curtains for his team.

"There is a forecast that suggests there will be some weather about tomorrow," said Law. "It's a shame, as it's hampered the tour and robbed the viewing public of some quality cricket. But while it's in the air we've still got to bat well and with Sanga at the crease we're a very good chance of saving this Test. We need some runs from the middle and late order, but Sanga really is the one to watch tomorrow."

Sangakkara's record in England - which currently stands at 445 runs in nine Tests at 27.81 - is a curious anomaly, a blot on a career record that is already guaranteed to be recalled among the greats. At the age of 33, there is no guarantee he will be back for a fourth tour of England, but by the close he was doing his best to finish this series on a personal high, as he wore the blows of England's confident attack and responded with some counter-thrusts of his own, not least a whistling cover-drive to draw the sting of Stuart Broad's most probing spell of the series.

His looseness outside off stump had a been a notable frailty in his first five innings of the series, and one stabbed cut in James Anderson's final spell bounced inches short of gully. Nevertheless, from the moment he got off the mark with a classy first-ball whip off the pads, Sangakkara looked primed for the tussle that awaited him, as he swayed out of the way of a vicious lifter from Chris Tremlett, and took another ball from Broad on the body rather than let his gloves get in the way.

"Sanga rarely doesn't have the bit between his teeth to be honest," said Law. "If anything he comes out of his comfort zone here and tries too hard to put it right. He scores runs for fun in places like Australia and he's done well in South Africa too, so it's not that he can't play outside the subcontinent. But it's just taken him a while to realise his game and what he needs to do. I think tonight he batted with extreme purpose and looked every bit the world-class player he is."

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, they still shipped three prime wickets, including Mahela Jayawardene for another single-figure score. The debutant Larihu Thirimanne knuckled down with great resolve to grind out a doughty 38, while Tharanga Paranavitana once again showcased his durability, even if he was unable to turn his crease occupation into runs in an hour-long stay for 10. When asked if he was happy with the application shown by his team, Law was disarmingly honest. "Not really," he said. "You'd always like more.

"But I'm really impressed with Lahiru," he added. "He's gutsed it out, and he played well. As a young kid making his debut in circumstances he's very foreign to, I'm very proud of the way he played today. It's just unfortunate he got out at the wrong time. Obviously you always want your batsmen to score hundreds every time they go out. That's never going to happen, but we do need a bit more."

Prior to the game, Sangakkara's captaincy concerns had hinted at a degree of unrest within the team. The impending return of the player-turned-politician, Sanath Jayasuriya, at the age of 41 is the issue that will confront them as soon as this match is over and attention switches to the one-day leg of the tour. But as Law was at pains to point out, whatever external pressures may currently exist, the players themselves are just pressing on as best they can.

"The dressing room is very happy," he said. "The boys always walk in with a smile on their face. Whatever else happens in the next few weeks, we have no control over it. We have to go out there and play some cricket.

"They deal with these kind of issues day in, day out," he added. "It's never nice but the boys are happy, they get on with their cricket. They know they've got a job, they love playing for their country. They do it for a lot of people back home, they are very proud of that and they want to keep that intact.

"It hasn't gone well for us [so far], but that's not to do with anything in the dressing-room. It's because England have been very, very good. We probably haven't stepped up to the mark a few times, but we have at certain times."

As for Law himself, his own future as coach is still up in the air, with a full-time successor to Trevor Bayliss still to be appointed. "I have spoken to the right people so hopefully it will be resolved very soon," he said. In the immediate future, Sri Lanka will hope the same can be said of Sangakkara's record in England.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • first_slip on June 20, 2011, 16:28 GMT

    @Harmony111, Gayle ~ Cook > better than Sangakkara...ou make me laough mate, cook is just a blocker, is having few good innings, chris gale is hit miss type who score 1 out o ten hits in test, Yes Ghambier may challenge sangakkara..but not yet...

  • HAKF5 on June 20, 2011, 16:28 GMT

    I am really proud of young Lahiru Thirimanne. He battered bravely with difficult condition. He showed his capabilities in handling pace , bounce & swing. I wonder why he is not in ODIs. He is a technically correct player with a good cricketing brain . It is time to for our selectors to make use this young talent in both test & ODIs. Thirimanne & Chandimal will be our future cricket. Hope our selectors will make them play as much as possible in future.

  • yorkslanka on June 20, 2011, 16:23 GMT

    Great batting effort to save this test and lose this series by only 1-0.that was also due to us playing badly for just one session and losing the first test.great to see sanga coming back into form ,as we knew he would. What a shame we failed to concentrate for that one session otherwise we would have drawn this series which would have been a good result for our test team in this rebuilding phase. I didn't see the 3-0 result which was so easily predicted by some prior to the series, and surprise surprise, they are suddenly very quiet??

    Before people start bleating about us being saved bt the rain,its worth renembering England had the best of the bowling conditions(with a superior bowling attack) and we still avoided a whitewash.

    Onwards and hopefully upwards to the odi series.

  • danuk87 on June 20, 2011, 16:13 GMT

    @cricsavvy u says sanga only play 3 test and average 65 in aus??and he score on dead wickets?,aus never produce dead wickets for tests or odi's. then 2006 vb series all 11 matches sl played must be on dead wickets all over australia where sanga become the highest run getter of all aus, sa, sl players on that series when he got over 450 runs.y u compare zim average?? according to u, told he only play only 3 in aus?how many he played in zim? only 2, so then y u highlight it as, he score 90% of his runs there, just get a true point for argument, sanga won matches in pak, with double hundred where waqar wasim in there side, and got back to back 100's including 150+ and won the match to sl, so u talking about dead wickets, how sl manage to won those matches

  • sanath007 on June 20, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    Now what the people who said Sanga was not a great say??? now he has scored in England. he's a Legend, a truly great batsman. Looking at the arguments then Bradman is not a great batsman at all, because he didn't score a single run in India,Pak,Sri Lanka,West Indies, New Zealand. Only against England.

  • danuk87 on June 20, 2011, 14:50 GMT

    @yokshire Sanga score 59% of his runs in home because ICC don't give srilanka enough overseas test matches compared to other test nations, that's not his fault and , the only inning he played in aus in 2007 he got 54 & 192 could make more if Rudie kirsten didn't gave the bad decision, and sl never given a match in sa since 2002 where sanga made 98 in last test he played there, so its realy unfair to compare his record with tendulkar, ponting, or lara who given lot of matches to play out side there country, given opportunity sanga score 100's in every test playing nation with reasonable average, and he deserve to be world class player!

  • area1985 on June 20, 2011, 14:41 GMT

    @cricsavvy sanga score 190+ & couple of 90's in SA and just finish a 100 in eng, u deliberately missed his averages in nz & pak which is also above 60 apart from aus, just stop jealous on success,he score runs in dead wickets?huh, who was ur dream hero score runs on difficult wickets??, sanga score runs against every great bowler in difficult wickets, he is truly word class player!

  • Harmony111 on June 20, 2011, 14:35 GMT

    @first_slip:

    You got the right to have your opinion bro but I do think that most teams feel very happy to see KP back as quickly as possible. KP is highly talented, can be unorthodox, scores quickly (unlike Cook and Trott), scores big and can take on and demoralize the best opposition bowler. He is a Border Collie in that sense. His double in the Ashes was one such knock. KP's problems are of his own making and if he can get over them then he might even have a crest just like Ponting had (after Ponting was able to get over his alcohol problem). Also please note that Gayle ~ Cook > Gambhir have some claim to be called the best leftie. These 3 have some arguable salient attributes that Sanga does not have. Sanga is not without competition there and is by no means the undisputed best leftie.

  • Finn92 on June 20, 2011, 13:31 GMT

    He's a very good player but I won't go as far as saying he's a great. He might be remembered as a great by his countrymen but as he plays most of his innings on dead pitches you have to say that it's a very bloated average. It's not his fault really, he doesn't work on the wickets he just bats on what is offered but in reality on sporting pitches you could probably take his average to closer to 50 but that is just speculating really.

  • KingOwl on June 20, 2011, 12:29 GMT

    Great to see Sanga scoring. It was clear that his mind was not in the right place. Now, things seem to be falling into place. The man is world class and making runs in England, even in early season, should not be a challenge to him. I think pure talent wise, he is better than Tendulkar. He just hasn't had the same chances to showcase his talents, unfortunately. Unlike Indians for instance who always get flat wickets by playing in the later season, Sri Lankans always get the tough conditions, whether in England or SA, or Australia, purely due to commercial reasons. It would be nice to see a change, at least once in a while. It would only be fair.

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