Sri Lanka encouraged by battling draw
Alastair Cook is a defensive captain. Angelo Mathews is a defensive captain. Put their teams together on a flat deck that saw three centuries and a double-hundred, and you have a draw. Right?
For much of day four and some of day five, the Test was headed for that fate, but of course, the cricket gods - purveyors of surprise and perennial makers of mischief - connived to make it so much better than that. The result did not change, but would-be-follicles in Marvan Atapattu's bald scalp will have turned grey, and even Mathews, who has overseen his share of heart-stoppers in his brief time at the helm, appeared shaken from the experience.
The only man in the Sri Lanka camp who seemed to have a grip on the situation, was the same guy who had smashed his own stumps with his bat in the first innings. England had begun raucous celebrations when ice-cold Nuwan Pradeep called for perhaps the most undeniably game-changing review since Galileo decided to take another look at the solar system. Then, when he survived the final ball, he and No. 10 Shaminda Eranga shook hands casually in the middle of the pitch. One can only guess from their body language at the contents of their conversation.
"Shame this match has to end now, no machang? We could have both hit hundreds otherwise."
Earlier, in the afternoon, Kumar Sangakkara had dead batted 31 deliveries in one stretch like he was facing backyard throw downs from his four-year-old daughter, then went over 100 deliveries without a boundary, with not so much as a grunt of frustration. He has gone some way to silencing critics in this match, raising his average significantly in England, where he has struggled in the past. In the second innings, he silenced supporters as well. So many cricket pundits and fans were predicting another ton on Twitter, it seemed almost inevitable that he would fall well short. He cut James Anderson back on to his stumps to truly set some panic in the visiting dressing room.
Later that same over, Lahiru Thirimanne took guard against Anderson. His five most recent international dismissals had all been effected by this one bowler. In seven innings before this against England, Anderson had claimed him four times. The bowler, by now, must feel he only needs to sneeze in Thirimanne's direction to claim his wicket. Thirimanne had been in good nick before the tour, but at present, he is like Superman in Lex Luthor's kryptonite jail cell.
Mathews had an outstanding Test as a batsman, hitting an almost surreptitious century in the first innings, after the crowd had used up all their fanfare on Sangakkara the previous day. Mathews traded in that pizzazz for passivity in the second dig, taking cover in his trench for 89 nerveless balls, before Anderson got the better of him as well. It was the kind of innings that should not hurt personal statistics, but it did. He now only averages 76 each time he comes to the crease as captain. He has undoubtedly grown as a leader, and he has become skilled at deflecting praise and indulging in less-than-enlightening captain-speak as well.
"I'm just trying to give my best to the team, regardless of being the captain or not," Mathews said of his own performance after the match. "I'm working really hard. I always see the big boys working hard. Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela, Dilshan - they all work hard. We've got some inspiration within the team. The senior guys are helping the junior guys as well. Especially in Test cricket, you need to make those changes and bat to the situations. You might need to change your game plan some time. You're always learning."
Tactically, he was somewhat weaker in this match. Given the Sri Lanka top order's recent struggles against swing and seam, Mathews' decision to field first was perhaps understandable, but it was undoubtedly the more conservative option. There were times on the second morning when Sri Lanka forgot their attack was not comprised of Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Zeus. The "lightning-bolts" aimed at the batsmen's heads did some damage, and claimed a few lower-order wickets, but the short-ball plan cost the team over 200 runs as well.
Sri Lanka will have been encouraged by what they saw from Eranga and Pradeep, not so much with the bat, but with the new ball in hand. Eranga's fourth-day spell was perhaps the best in the game until Anderson's day-five burst, and Pradeep had been effective when the pitch took seam on day one.
Ultimately, Lord's threw up the kind of result that will satisfy both teams. England proved they can do something other than draw unbroken streams of ire, and Sri Lanka have avoided a first defeat at Lord's since 1991. Best of all, the finish had a meagre crowd talking, and no one was even mankaded.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando