Sri Lanka were denied victory in Galle when a second torrential downpour ended the final Test with England tottering on 251 for 6 although Alastair Cook's 118, his seventh Test century, helped keep Sri Lanka at bay. However, when he was removed after the first interruption England's tail was left with a task that would surely have been beyond them, especially against Muttiah Muralitharan who had triggered an earlier dramatic collapse of three wickets in four balls before lunch.
It was hard on Sri Lanka, who deserved a 2-0 scoreline but have the consolation of a rise to third in the world rankings. England travel in the opposite direction, down to fifth from second, a position they have held for three years, although how much those standings really mean to the players is unclear. Despite the draw England can't take much pride from their performance, although Cook's hundred at least means they registered three figures once in the series.
The highlight of the final day of the series was Muralitharan's pre-lunch spell which sent England crashing from 200 for 2 to 200 for 5 in four balls. He hasn't quite been at his incisive best since capturing the world record three weeks ago in Kandy, but sparked into life with the prospect of a few week's rest. Sri Lanka's next commitments are not until the CB Series in February.
He had already made the first incision of the morning, removing Ian Bell with a delivery which kept wickedly low to hit off stump. Cook, who was dropped early in the day on 54, and Kevin Pietersen responded by adding 72, but Muralitharan was settling into a probing spell. Switching to around the wicket he put Pietersen in a tangle, unsure whether to use bat or pad. He eventually gained his reward when Pietersen carelessly clipped a half volley to Mahela Jayawardene at midwicket.
Pietersen did have time to pass 3000 runs in his 33rd Test, equalling the mark set by Herbert Sutcliffe, and he also reached 1000 for the year, but it was the first time he ended a series without at least a half century. England suffered in all three Tests from losing batsmen when they are well set and Pietersen's departure gave an opening to Sri Lanka. Two balls later Paul Collingwood was bamboozled and left stranded by a doosra as he tried to find the gap at midwicket and Prasanna Jayawardene produced a neat stumping.
Ravi Bopara completed a depressing pair, and a chastening first Test series, when his urgency to find a run ended his stay first ball. He edged Muralitharan to Jayawardene's right at slip and the Sri Lanka captain dived, collected the ball and in one motion returned to the wicketkeeper. Bopara had already taken a couple of strides down the pitch and couldn't turn in time. It was another example of the athleticism Sri Lanka have shown throughout the series, but Bopara's desperation came from a mind that has been scrambled by recent events.
In contrast, Cook's mind remained commendably focussed after watching from the non-striker's end and he maintained his composure to reach a century off 228 balls. He now has seven Test hundreds which puts him one behind Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar who had eight by the time they turned 23, and level with Javed Miandad. Cook's birthday is on Christmas Day. It was also England's first overseas Test hundred since Cook scored his second-innings century at Perth a little over a year ago.
Prasanna Jayawardene dropped a leg-glance off Lasith Malinga in the day's second over, a rare error for a wicketkeeper who has impressed during the series. Cook played Muralitharan with relative ease and combined with Matt Prior - who had ground to make up after three dropped catches - in a stand spanning 30 overs either side of the rain breaks.
The weather caught everyone by surprise by clearing as rapidly as it arrived meaning Sri Lanka had one more chance to push for victory. Muralitharan thought he had Prior twice, firstly with an lbw which Asad Rauf correctly ruled would have slipped past leg stump, then with an edge that dropped fractionally short of slip. Jayawardene claimed the catch and tensions were running high with him not impressed by England's time wasting.
Cook was dropped a second time from a flashing cut the wicketkeeper dives across Kumar Sangakkara, who could only get fingers to the ball at first slip; the reprieve was brief as he fell next ball when Chanaka Welegedara made once bounce outside off stump. Sri Lanka were sensing the kill, but rain began to fall again and this time there was no coming back as the ground was soaked within minutes.
However, after beginning the series on the back of a hammering by Australia and rumblings of discontent in the camp, Sri Lanka have shown that in their own conditions they are one of the most formidable opposition in the world.