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December 19, 2007
Jayawardene's century, his 21st in Tests, arrived shortly after tea and followed the 195 that ended England's chances in Colombo. Individual shots from a Jayawardene innings don't stick in the mind but that is far from criticism as his effortless and elegant strokeplay has become a defining feature of this contest. With a poor weather forecast for the remainder of this Test Sri Lanka have already done enough to secure the series and Jayawardene's role has been immense.
England are left contemplating how things could have been different after a shoddy fielding display. Jayawardene was missed on 66 by Matt Prior, who also dropped Dilshan on 54 as he endured a tough day to take the gloss off an impressive series. Dilshan had been offered an earlier life, too, on 7 when Alastair Cook couldn't hold on to a sharp chance at gully. England's bowlers stuck to their task but, except for the first innings at Kandy, they have never threatened to run through Sri Lanka and creating more chances to make up for drops was asking too much.
Although Jayawardene's was the major contribution, Dilshan handed Sri Lanka the early momentum. He was far from impressed after missing out on the Australia tour but went away to domestic cricket and churned out runs. After being made to wait by the out-of-depth Jehan Mubarak during the first two Tests of this series, Dilshan grasped his chance with both hands.
He didn't hold back during his innings, throwing everything into his driving and cutting. His play against the short ball wasn't so convincing and he took three blows on the helmet but didn't take a backward step. He lived on the edge, courtesy the lives offered by Cook and Prior while Ravi Bopara also failed to hold a powerful drive at cover when Dilshan was on 31. Half-chances make the difference at this level and England haven't held many this series.
It is sod's law that as soon as a player is once again being talked up he suffers a day to test even his supporter's patience. After Dilshan had passed his half-century, off 81 balls, he edged another drive of Ryan Sidebottom, but Prior was unable to glove it low to his right and palmed the ball on to Ian Bell's ankles at slip. Sidebottom bowled without luck throughout, beating both Jayawardene and Dilshan with sharp inswingers, and it brought back memories of when he roughed up Sachin Tendulkar at The Oval and did everything except take his wicket.
Although England didn't deserve a huge amount of luck after grassing three clear-cut chances, they can feel rightly aggrieved that Dilshan didn't fall to Hoggard on 64. He gloved down the leg side and Prior made an impressive take, but Daryl Harper denied him a chance of redemption and there weren't many mitigating circumstances for the umpire.
Dilshan's eagerness to allow Jayawardene to reach his century brought his downfall with a milestone of his own on offer. He called Jayawardene through for a quick single but was caught inches short by Cook's direct hit from point. It took numerous replays for the third umpire to give the decision, and different angles clouded the moment, but the correct call was made. After waiting nearly 45 overs for a wicket, another came along in a hurry when Bopara claimed his first Test scalp with a neat away-swinger to take Prasanna Jayawardene's edge, and Mahela went to tea poised on 99.
Shortly after the interval Jayawardene reached his century and the focussed, almost restrained, pump of the fists indicated that this innings had a significant prize at the end. And he showed no inclination to leave even the merest of opportunities for England, or offering his team an early bowl. A 2-0 series win will lift Sri Lanka to second place on the rankings, but first and foremost they want the trophy.
Jayawardene and Chaminda Vaas ground England down, as the pitch became slower, adding 97 with weary quicks replaced by the medium pace of Bopara and Paul Collingwood. It was a sign that the match had been taken away from England. As Michael Vaughan led a tired group of players from the field, Jayawardene allowed himself a smile. He knows the job is nearly done.
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