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December 18, 2007
Last week in Colombo, Harmison toiled through nearly 42 overs for his three wickets but he improved with every spell and here was on the mark straightaway. His early overs were aggressive and sharp but it was the post-tea burst, claiming Sangakkara and Chamara Silva, that gave England the lift they needed after a disappointing return of two wickets in the opening two sessions.
The disrupted build-up to the match left plenty of question marks over how the pitch would play and Michael Vaughan's decision to bowl reflected both this and the feeling that England's attack needed all possible assistance to take 20 wickets. But it also left his team with the likelihood of having to bat last against Muttiah Muralitharan and a few signs of uneven bounce, and spin for Monty Panesar, suggests that won't be an easy prospect.
An early breakthrough evaded England until Ryan Sidebottom, who had just received treatment after slipping at fine-leg, trapped Michael Vandort lbw although the ball would have comfortably travelled over the top of the stumps. That wicket was a relief for England, who should have struck in the previous over when Upul Tharanga edged Harmison's fourth ball to second slip only for Paul Collingwood - the safest catcher in the team - to shell a comfortable chance to his right. It wasn't a costly error as Tharanga added just one more before Harmison pitched the ball up and trapped him in front. Asad Rauf gave his second decision of the morning and although replays showed it pitched fractionally outside leg it wasn't such an obvious error as Vandort's.
A familiar story then began to take shape as Sangakkara and Jayawardene put up an 88-run stand for the third wicket. Between them they have 603 runs in the series and Sangakkara collected a couple more milestones, reaching 6000 Test runs before lunch then later passing 1000 against England. Both were at their controlled, elegant best and were content to click over with ones and twos as an understandably slow outfield cut the number of boundaries.
However, with his first ball after tea Harmison encouraged Sangakkara to pull a bouncer down Panesar's throat at deep square-leg. England believed they had removed Sangakkara early when, on 2, Matthew Hoggard beat his attempted drive. The bowler and slips (plus a few surrounding fielders) went up as one, but Daryl Harper didn't detect an edge. Given that quite a few of this England team weren't involved in the one-day series, they may not remember that Sangakkara walked for a caught behind when there was barely an appeal.
After coolly holding the catch Panesar sprinted in like an excited schoolboy, while Harmison was more concerned about saving energy, but the breakthrough allowed England to hold Sri Lanka. It took four overs for the first run of evening session and Harmison, together with Sidebottom, maintained the pressure. Silva was kept virtually scoreless for 26 balls then, after being forced back by Harmison's pace, pushed outside off stump. The catch flew waist height to Ian Bell, not a common sight this series, and it capped Harmison's most sustained spell since his 11 wickets against Pakistan at Old Trafford.
It was energy-sapping work for the bowlers, in near-100% humidity, and the quicks made regular trips off the ground to refresh. Panesar wheeled way with an economical spell - two balls in his first over turned square - and all three fast bowlers continued to run in hard. But it was the sight of Hoggard wringing out his shirt as he walked back to his mark that summed up the extreme conditions.
Jayawardene battled through the fading light, bringing up his half-century off 127 balls. He still stands between England and a firm grip on this Test, but Harmison's effort has kept their hopes of levelling the series alive on a day where the significance of events stretched well beyond the boundary.