England rise above the tension to clinch thrilling victory
Those present in the tension-racked Asgiriya Stadium will never forget this Test Match. Although it was marred by umpiring controversy, the spectators witnessed five days of compelling cricket, culminating in a nerve-racking finale.
White and Giles celebrate victory
England emerged victorious at 1.31pm as Craig White forced a short ball from the Sri Lankan captain, Sanath Jaysuriya, through the off side and lifted his arms in triumph. Required to score 70 runs today, England lost three wickets in the morning session before Ashley Giles joined White and the pair added 19 runs to seal the match.
"It was a very good Test Match for nerves and excitement and all the things that Test match cricket is supposed to produce and therefore when you win one of these games it gives you great enjoyment and relief," enthused England skipper Nasser Hussain.
"We've had a taste of success and done it before at Karachi and Lord's and we had good men batting down the order - in past days if we'd have gone six or seven down we'd have been blown away but we have a good coach who makes sure we practise all forms of the game."
The game had tossed and turned throughout the five days. Just when one side looked to have grabbed the initiative, the other lifted themselves from the ground for a valiant fightback. England thrust first with four Sri Lankan wickets on the first morning, then Jayawardene and Arnold rescued the innings with a 141 partnership.
Looking down the barrel of an imposing Sri Lanka total, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick grabbed the new ball and tore through the Sri Lankan batting, taking five wickets for 20 runs.
Sri Lanka re-imposed themselves, dismissing both English openers early on, to leave the stage set for Hussain's first century in any form of cricket for 15 months. Another late-evening collapse looked certain to provide a meagre first innings lead at best, but an 87-run partnership between Stewart and White and a crucial 40-run stand for the last wicket gave England a 90-run lead.
Gough - Man of the Match
Gough, who deservedly won the man of the match for his eight wickets, then ripped into the top order and Sri Lanka looked dead and buried on 88 for six. But, on the fourth day they fought themselves back into the game, eventually posting a tricky 161 target for England.
When Sri Lanka grabbed four wickets last night, both sides knew they could win. It turned out to be a short day, but boy, was it a tense one? England began with their noses ahead and kept the initiative throughout, although Sri Lanka kept clawing their way back into the game whenever they looked like sinking.
Alec Stewart and Robert Croft survived six overs this morning, adding just six runs, before Stewart became the latest victim of umpiring controversy, as he was adjudged leg before wicket by B.C. Cooray. It was the third time in four innings that he had been triggered.
Graeme Hick strode to the crease and survived a catch behind to Sangakkara when he had made just three. His escape allowed him to stroke two precious boundaries and add 25 runs with Croft, but he was bowled while pushing through the offside.
The fall of Hick brought Craig White to the wicket. The Sri Lankans felt before he was the danger man and he proved to be so, scoring a cool-headed 21. He blunted Muralitharan with the sweep and frustrated the Sri Lankans by scampering regular singles and adding 25 runs with Croft, before the nightwatchman, who had batted nearly two hours for his crucial 17 runs, missed a straight ball from Dharmasena and was lbw.
Ashley Giles could have been dismissed three times in his first over against the beguiling Muralitharan. White too survived numerous appeals from the desperate close fielders. Somehow the pair survived and when the target was reduced to single figures, the burden seemed to lift visibly from their shoulders. An edge past the gloves of Sangakkara for four finally broke the Sri Lankans and paved the way for White's match winning square cut two overs later.
White was delighted with his contribution. "My ambition has always been to hit the winning runs to help England win a Test Match," he said.
"I've often had a dream that I'd be 60 not out and score the winning runs and I know I didn't get that many, but this is right up there with the best moments of my career."
England now travel to Colombo, the series all square, with the tantalising prospect of winning their fourth series on the trot at the Sinhalese Sports Club in four days' time.