England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 5th day June 24, 2014

SL snatch victory after defiant Moeen ton


Sri Lanka 257 (Sangakkara 79, Plunkett 5-64) and 457 (Mathews 160, Jayawardene 79, Sangakkara 55, 4-112) and England 365 (Robson 127, Ballance 74, Bell 64, Mathews 4-44, Eranga 4-93) and 249 (Moeen 108*, Prasad 5-50) by 100 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Play 01:26
Kimber: Phenomenal end to an incredible Test match

Sri Lanka won when they had almost abandoned hope. From the penultimate ball of a gripping final day, Shaminda Eranga found a hostile delivery to bring their first series win in England. James Anderson, who could only fend it to the leg side in self-preservation, dropped to his haunches in despair. Moeen Ali's immense maiden Test century was briefly forgotten, submerged beneath an ecstatic Sri Lankan celebration.

An indomitable backs-to-the-wall display by Moeen had come so close to sparing England: an unbeaten 108, unblemished even, made from 281 balls. England's last five wickets had clung on for all but two balls of the final day. Pride had been salvaged, perhaps a captain had been spared too, but it is Sri Lanka who can celebrate a special moment in their Test history.

Sri Lanka's last pair held out for five balls in the first Test at Lord's. This time the task was much harder for Moeen and Anderson: 20.2 overs. Even in Cardiff, when Anderson and Monty Panesar famously held off Australia in 2009, they only saw out 11.3. This time Anderson summoned a heroic 55-ball nought, all signifying nothing.

Tension slowly seeped into the final day as it only can in Test cricket. The crowd was sparse - Yorkshire had folded its arms in condemnation, convinced like all but the most incorrigibly optimistic that England's abject collapse to 57 for 5, well adrift of a target of 350, had sealed their fate - but a night's sleep had cleared muddled heads and Headingley, treacherous Headingley, not the sort of pitch to turn your back on, behaved like an old softie. At only a fiver entrance fee for the final day, Yorkshire had turned its back on a classic.

Moeen, a cricketing free spirit, played with such judgment and self-denial that he must have explored parts of himself never visited before. He surely surprised even himself, suppressing the silky ambition of his batting during a strikingly unselfish innings in which his most positive shots were expertly selected. He met the second new ball with conviction and, in only his second Test, he made light of his international experience with impassioned advice to England's tail.

Only with nine wickets down did Moeen seek to steal the strike, only now did his timing begin to go awry as the demands weighed upon him. But his concentration was unwavering. His century came with half-an-hour remaining, flicking Nuwan Pradeep off his pads, but it had always felt like an afterthought in an innings where he appeared entirely consumed by England's survival. This was not as much an innings as personal growth before your eyes.

Even in defeat, there should be no doubt who will be the recipient of England's annual Beard of the Year award - and, if that is one of the most frivolous awards around, this time it would have a more serious message. There are times when the wider social impact of a performance in sport must also be recognised even in a match report - and this was one of them.

A sole spectator earlier in the Test who observed, however unthinkingly, that Moeen's beard suggested he should be blowing up buildings was rightly reported to stewards and warned. Muslim cricketers have played for England before, but none had been so visibly proud to be a role model. With every stout-hearted block, Moeen made such comments appear ever more ignorant and, for those who questioned as much, integrated himself - and more importantly his beard - deep into the fabric of the England side.

There were two umpiring reviews for Moeen to survive along the way, both optimistically sought by Sri Lanka for leg-side catches. On 52, a delivery from Rangana Herath, the left-arm spinner, found its way to leg slip, on 71 Eranga flicked his thigh pad on the way through to the wicketkeeper, but he was confident that his survival chances were 100%.

Such was his selectivity that it was hard to recall another blemish. On another occasion, he had an inadvisable flirt when Herath slanted a low-arm delivery across him, but generally he curbed his attacking instincts with great resolve, only occasionally allowing himself to sweep or come down the pitch to Herath, choices he made with impeccable judgment.

England set the tone for the final day by making only 26 in nearly 18 overs during a drizzle-interrupted morning. Root clearly relished the chance to produce an innings of Boycottian bloody-mindedness in front of the Yorkshire crowd; strokelessness is no hardship for him when the match dictates it.

Not shy of a word or two himself - the innocent countenance is entirely misleading - he predictably became the victim of prolonged sledging from the Sri Lanka captain, Angelo Mathews, who was instructed to curb his behaviour more than once by both umpires, and whose victory celebrations looked bound to be interrupted by an audience with the match referee. He should offer him an arrack and see if he can get away with it.

If Mathews was in danger of getting sidetracked, it did not show in his captaincy, which remained well judged. He shuffled his bowlers endlessly in the final hour to try to unsettle England's last pair and it paid off when he flung the ball to his most aggressive bowler, Eranga for one last effort - although not before he kept Mooen off strike with his own excellent over.

Sri Lanka's bowlers, by and large, were disciplined as the wickets came only slowly. Eranga adopted a short-ball policy in mid-afternoon, but it seemed a legitimate tactic at the time and unsettled Root. Herath lobbed up over after over accurately, but found little turn, a frustration he accepted with placid countenance. Instead Root was unpicked by an outswinger from Pradeep, a leading edge flying low to gully where Lahiru Thirimanne held a smart catch.

Prior became a fifth victim for Sri Lanka's fourth-day hero, Dhammika Prasad, a well-directed ball into his body and a deflection which was expertly snapped up by Kaushal Silva low down at short leg - not the first time he has fallen in such a fashion.

It was Prasad's effort ball and it almost resulted in his first no-ball of the match - the TV umpire requiring innumerable replays before concluding, fairly enough, that he got a sliver of boot behind a wonky front line. The match referee, Andy Pycroft, was quick to advise that if there was any uncertainty - and there was uncertainty - the decision should rest with the bowler as there was not definite proof he had overstepped.

That decision, as it happened, was balanced out early in the final session. With the second over of the new ball, Chris Jordan drove loosely at Eranga and edged to second slip, only for another hair's breadth decision this time to fall in England's favour; again legitimately so. No balls were the last thing Sri Lanka needed, but they encapsulated how they were straining with every sinew to complete something quite exceptional.

There was further encouragement for Sri Lanka when a delivery from Pradeep went through the top and jagged alarmingly away from Jordan. Herath was reintroduced with the new ball seven overs old and he removed Jordan lbw with his second delivery. England's review had an air of desperation.

Indifferent light became Sri Lanka's next problem as the emergence of a blinking Stuart Broad coincided with the first appearance of the umpires' light meters. Broad's departure for a toilet break early in his innings was astounding. Sri Lanka were forced to resort to Mahela Jayawardene's little-used offspin - six wickets to his name in 145 Tests - but, while the restrictions were in operation, Broad's 24-ball nought ended when Herath straightened one to have him lbw.

Sri Lanka's recovery had been admirable - England had been 311 for 3 in their first innings at one stage, ahead by 54 - and over-excitability was the only explanation for wasting their second review, with 16 overs remaining, a futile search for an lbw decision for Herath against Anderson. Over-excitability became concern, became desperation, before desperation - at the last - was transformed into utter delight.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on June 27, 2014, 10:30 GMT

    Wooooooooow what a thriller. cricket at it's best. I watched the last day fully and have no regrets. best test series ever. it's soo disappointing it's only 2 matches. waiting to see how India performs. guess this will end their media hyps.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 2:46 GMT

    The Secret behind the SL Success in England is not joining the IPL this time. other every time we have bend to the IPL, We failed as a national team. both players & board must think about this. how much worth a wining a series in England than stupid IPL.

  • ESPN on June 26, 2014, 6:16 GMT

    Srilanka definitely is the best Asian side right now after Pakistan and India respectively in tests and limited overs games. Lanka possess talent but on top of all, they always present a good team performance A country with that much glories in cricket with too little bunch of individual brilliance speaks this for itself They way they won two major cups this year and the way their side is showing class against pacers as well, I believe they stand a fair chance of competing with Australia in WC15 finals . (a fan from Pakistan)

  • Prashan on June 26, 2014, 5:14 GMT

    Well said Meety I fully agree with you. Our effort was great but bowling must improve. Great to win a test series in England sans Vaas and Murali.

    Australia are definitely the best today in tests. My prediction for the CWC 2015 is that it will be a Sri Lanka Australia finals as we have won 9 out of the last 19 ODIs against Australia in Australia.

  • Android on June 26, 2014, 4:39 GMT

    certainly one should appreciate Lankan effort, but again this tike has been in pieces and fighting for resurgence, didn't expect anything different. Not the same without KP

  • Prashan on June 26, 2014, 0:22 GMT

    @vkias, it is just a matter of when India gets thrashed 5-0 in the upcoming tour of England. England batsmen can use your bowlers as an insurance cover to get back into form. Cook will score 2 double tons against India. Got thrashed 4-0 in England, 4-0 in Australia, 1-0 in NZ and SA was due to umpiring help as if not it would have been yet another whitewash. India wins all due to luck or umpiring help.

  • Andrew on June 25, 2014, 23:50 GMT

    @Vikram Singh - I thought you were kidding at first. About 80% of your country don't even think MSD should be the Test captain, let alone even being anywhere near the best captain India have ever had, let alone the world! LOL! == == == Saw no footage of this game. What a great series. Despite England's downunder disaster, & despite picking what I felt was an underwhelming team, I thought Eng would win 1-0 or 2-0, but would be VERY close (got that bit right). Probably should of been 1all, but SL fans deserve to bask in the series win. It was great guts shown by SL. The previous series in Eng, I had said that SL was a lot better than what Eng fans said ( lot were saying Eng should of won 3-0), I felt SL was well placed in the 2 draws. == == == The cruelty of Test cricket was exposed (don't ya love it). Eng - so close to going one up in 1st Test thriller, & then NEARLY saving the 2nd Test. The tail showed in one innings - more spine then in the 10 recent Ashes innings combined.

  • Shehan on June 25, 2014, 23:21 GMT

    @Vikram, what happened the last time India showed up? Oh right, 0-4 loss to England in tests!

  • John on June 25, 2014, 21:27 GMT

    @nursery_ender on (June 25, 2014, 9:15 GMT) Yes. Guess there's no easy solution. Also I didn't realise how soon the India series starts.

  • David on June 25, 2014, 19:26 GMT

    @ Vikram Singh The article is about the test match between Eng & Sri Lanka, and the discussions here are on that topic. India did not play in that match, and thus is not part of the conversation. Your comments on India will be appreciated when posted in respond to an article concerning India.