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May 13, 2006
Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's vice-captain and top-scorer, admitted that his side were still braced for a hefty defeat in the first Test at Lord's, despite a vastly improved performance with the bat on the third day of the match. Having resumed on 91 for 6 in reply to England's massive total of 551 for 6 declared, Sri Lanka knuckled down to their task and added a further 284 for the loss of seven wickets in the day, to close on 183 for 3 in their second innings.
"Realistically, it's going to be a tough ask," admitted Sangakkara. "Stranger things have happened on the cricket field and if two batsmen get set and bat out a day you've always got a chance, but with six sessions remaining, if we do get out of it, it'll be one of the great escapes of Test cricket."
That prospect might have been rather more tangible if Sangakkara himself had still been at the crease. But his dismissal for 65 with just four overs of the day remaining left a huge burden on the shoulders of the captain, Mahela Jayawardene. "To get 65 on a track like that should set you up for a big score," he admitted. "Unfortunately I got a ball that didn't turn very much, and I probably wouldn't have played it any differently second-time around."
The ball in question had been delivered by Monty Panesar, who might not have been expecting much of a role in this match after England's seamers ploughed through the Sri Lankan top-order in the first innings. But his figures of 2 for 26 from 15 overs had been crucial in England regaining a measure of control, as Sri Lanka began to find batting as easy as England themselves had found it on the first two days of the match.
"He's a good bowler," said Sangakkara of Panesar. "He's not afraid to try and get wickets by going around the wicket to right-handers and giving it some air to the lefties. He does the basics quite well and knows what works for him, and from what we saw of him [on England's tour] in India, he's well set.
Sangakkara refused to blame the pitch for Sri Lanka's batting failings of the first innings, and tacitly admitted that their young line-up had been overawed by the occasion of playing a Test at Lord's. "It depends on how individuals react to situations like that," he said. "Lord's can either lift you or overawe you, and I'm really not sure how the guys went out there. But I think that coming into the dressing-room and seeing the names on the boards should inspire you."
One man who did rise to the occasion was the young opener, Upul Tharanga, who made light of the early dismissal of his partner, Jehan Mubarak, to post a composed and classy 52. Dotted with fine strokes through the off side, it was his fourth score of fifty-plus in international cricket, all of which have come in his last four Tests, including 165 against Bangladesh at Bogra.
"He's still 21, he's been in the side for a while after starting in the one-dayers, and he's learning pretty fast," said Sangakkara. "England is a great place to come and play cricket because it exposes some of the technical weaknesses you think you don't have. He's come into the side when we were in need of big performances, and this is a wonderful atmosphere for him to grow and contribute to the side."
And moreover, his efforts are likely to have secured him a spot for the second Test at Edgbaston in a fortnight's time, when the venerable figure of Sanath Jayasuriya is likely to make his much-hyped return from retirement. Jayasuriya broke his hand in his last Test appearance against Pakistan at Kandy, but was at the ground today, flitting between the dressing-room and the press-box. Sangakkara insisted that the issue had not been a distraction to the team.
"These decisions are made for everyone's benefit," he said. "The selectors have decided that Sanath is coming along on this tour, and for him to come out of retirement suggests he did not finish the way he wanted to. He's looking fresh and eager to get on with what he's come here for, so we'll see how he goes, and see how our plans fit in with his."