England close in after Sri Lanka collapse
After the nightmare performance by their fielders last week at Lord's, England promised a greatly improved effort and they didn't disappoint on the first day of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston. They routed Sri Lanka for 141, before motoring to 138 for 3 at the close to put them firmly in the driving seat.
Given the surprisingly sunny conditions in Birmingham, belying the torrential rain and sodden outfield just 12 hours earlier, Mahela Jayawardene understandably opted to bat first on a pitch which appeared easy-paced. He wasn't going to make the same mistake Ricky Ponting did last year, when England plundered 400 runs in a day. However, his optimism of a run-feast was short-lived, as Matthew Hoggard and Liam Plunkett made the apparently idyllic batting conditions appear utterly hazardous.
Hoggard immediately settled into his line and soon found prodigious swing. Upul Tharanga, who batted so resiliently in the first Test, was rather blameless when Hoggard produced the day's first crackerjack delivery, bending it back into the batsman and removing his off stump. It was just the fifth delivery of the day, and one which set the precedent.
The stand-in England captain, Andrew Flintoff, had opened the bowling with Hoggard but he soon conceded that the conditions were more suited to Plunkett - a kiss-the-pitch sort of bowler. And it was Plunkett's dramatic introduction which really rocked Sri Lanka's top-order. With a straight approach to the crease, a high arm and a locked wrist, his action is perfectly suited to swinging the ball (at a reasonable pace, too, if not at the same velocity as his team-mates), and provided England's attack with an excellent balance of pace, bounce and swing.
His third ball to Michael Vandort - who was selected ahead of Jehan Mubarak - initiated the first throaty appeal from an expectant slip cordon (and a packed Edgbaston) but replays suggested the ball flicked his shirt. However, the very next ball Vandort squirted one to Paul Collingwood in the gully, who gobbled the first catch of the day, much to England's relief.
Plunkett's line was pitch-perfect and, allied with consistent swing, he squared up Jayawardene - Sri Lanka's hero last week - with a beauty which left him at pace. All of a sudden, England's catching mare at Lord's had been forgotten and Sri Lanka were struggling. On the stroke of midday, Thilan Samaraweera was suckered into driving at another outswinger from the redoubtable Hoggard - who bowled with pinpoint, metronomic accuracy all morning - handing Collingwood his second chance of the morning. And when Farveez Maharoof prodded meekly at Sajid Mahmood, Sri Lanka went to lunch in a sorry state on 65 for 6.
Perhaps buoyed by their rearguard effort at Lord's last week, the Sri Lanka tailenders - Chaminda Vaas, and latterly Lasith Malinga - batted with a resilience that their top-order could only envy. Without ever expanding on the two bastions of tailendership - prodding and squirting - the pair put on fifty unlikely and valuable runs for the ninth wicket to delay England's stride.
Indeed, England's major blemish of the day involved Malinga, should have been sent packing on nought - and he would have... had Monty Panesar not been stationed at mid-off. Cheered by supporters at Lord's last week, the Edgbaston crowd were less generous and understandably so. Misjudging Plunkett's length, Malinga spooned the ball at a gentle pace high to Panesar's right, whose wasp-flapping attempt was not a sight to cherish. Sri Lanka were, at that point, 86 for 8 and facing almost certain capitulation.
Nevertheless, the milestone of compiling a fifty-run partnership was too proud a moment to bear for Malinga and, ironically, it was Panesar who removed him to leave Vaas stranded on a valiant 30.
England began solidly, if not spectacularly in their reply, with Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss notching a steady fifty partnership, interspersed with a handful of crunching boundaries. Seemingly in control, and having punched five attractive fours, Muttiah Muralitharan's topspinner found Trescothick's outside edge - but it took a fine, soft-handed catch from Kumar Sangakarra to dismiss him. Three overs later, Strauss and Alastair Cook were involved in a mix-up approaching comical value with Strauss guilty of ball-watching.
Cook played with an elegance and serenity which again belied his 21 years, cutting the erratic Malinga and driving Muralitharan with authority. But Sri Lanka's little maestro was too clever for him, holding one back and trapping him in front for 23. At the other end, Kevin Pietersen continued his brilliant form with a glitzy cameo of characteristic impishness and audacity, crunching Malinga for two consecutive fours before smashing Muralitharan for six over long-on. Ominously for Sri Lanka, he remains 30 not out and England trail by just three runs.
Marcus Trescothick c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 27 (57 for 1)
Top-spinner, beaten by the bounce - fine catch
Andrew Strauss run out (Dilshan) 29 (60 for 2)
Hopeless ball-watching mix-up
Alastair Cook lbw Muralitharan 23 (125 for 3)
Trapped on the crease by a top-spinner
Upul Tharanga b Hoggard 0 (3 for 1)
Beautiful inswinger; off-stump cart-wheeled
Michael Vandort c Collingwood b Plunkett 9 (16 for 2)
Stuck in the crease, squirted to gully, useful catch
Mahela Jayawardene c Jones b Plunkett 0 (16 for 3)
Squared up by a lifting outswinger
Thilan Samaraweera c Collingwood b Hoggard 3 (24 for 4)
Edged to fourth slip
Kumar Sangakkara c Jones b Plunkett 25 (46 for 5)
Left him a touch, feathered to the wicketkeeper
Farveez Maharoof c Jones b Mahmood 5 (65 for 6)
Wasteful prod outside off
Tillekeratne Dilshan c Trescothick b Flintoff 27 (79 for 7)
Expansive drive, thick edge to first slip
Nuwan Kulasekara c Trescothick b Mahmood 3 (82 for 8)
Poor shot, rocketed to first slip
Lasith Malinga lbw Panesar 26 (132 for 9)
Beaten by a touch of turn
Muttiah Muralitharan c Plunkett b Flintoff (141 all out)