Jayawardene masterclass puts Sri Lanka on top
Mahela Jayawardene made England toil with a magnificent 167, his 20th century in Tests, remaining unbeaten at stumps on the third day as Sri Lanka grafted their way into a dominant position at Colombo. Already trailing 1-0 in the series, and with a flat pitch showing prodigious turn, England face an uphill battle - and the prospect of Muttiah Muralitharan.
It was the sort of day sides touring the subcontinent most dread: searing heat; a lifeless pitch; an imbalanced, inexperienced and out-of-form bowling attack; and a batting side bristling with determination. England simply couldn't stem the flow of runs, whatever combination of bowlers Michael Vaughan tried, and Sri Lanka's batsmen prospered: principally Jayawardene, who stole the show with a chanceless display of elegance, but also Michael Vandort, with whom he put on 227.
Sri Lanka crept into the lead about half-an-hour before the close, and only lost two wickets in the day. Without excusing England's performance, which at times was insipid, they didn't enjoy much good fortune with three genuine edges falling short. Such was the sticky, porridge-like nature of the pitch, however, that it was a surprise the slips didn't help themselves by moving a couple of feet closer.
The tone of the morning was set by Steve Harmison, who consistently failed to make either batsman play. Perhaps it was a plan to catch Vandort down the leg-side with a riser, or maybe he was simply unable to correct his line to the left-hander, but that is the channel in which he bowled for much of the first session, and Sri Lanka were unsurprisingly unchallenged.
Vandort produced a grizzly 49 at Kandy. But today his full range of shots were on display and, for such a tall batsman, he showed excellent footwork and was particularly elegant driving through the covers. He brought up his fourth Test hundred from 180 balls as the pair's partnership passed 150. England were desperate for a wicket.
Ryan Sidebottom toiled hard but, as Sri Lanka went to lunch on 200 for 2, England's biggest problem was their inability to plug the leaking runs. Monty Panesar has usually been able to stem the flow in his short Test career, but he bowled much too short - in particular to Jayawardene who rocked back and cut him repeatedly through the covers. When he did toss it up, he was hammered on the front foot. In 32 overs he has managed just four maidens.
After his dismal morning, Harmison, enjoyed a much tighter spell after lunch, troubling Vandort outside his off stump and causing him to play and miss three times. The biggest threat to Sri Lanka's dominance, though, came from the unlikely source of Kevin Pietersen who gained appreciable turn off a good length and regularly troubled the pair with an excellent line. Vandort was beaten by a fizzing turner, and also edged another beauty which fell short of Paul Collingwood at first slip, while Jayawardene was squared up by a jaffa.
If a part-time offspinner can extract this much turn, what hope England with Muralitharan waiting in the wings?
Vandort's vigil ended three short of passing his highest in Tests when the persevering Sidebottom trapped him leg-before, but Jayawardene's masterful knock continued, passing Sanath Jayasuriya as Sri Lanka's leading run-scorer. And, on 149, he overtook Graham Gooch's record of 2015 runs at a single Test ground. Vandort was replaced by Chamara Silva - who strikes a remarkable resemblance to his captain's compact batting style - and another big stand took place. Curiously, Ravi Bopara wasn't introduced until the final hour of the day which, for someone apparently selected for his allround nous, was a disappointment.
Harmison tore in for a final burst 15 minutes before stumps and, much to his roaring delight, found a nasty riser to lift on Silva who fended a simple catch to Bopara to point. It was just reward for a determined effort, though came too late in the day to save England.
With Jayawardene not-out on 167, Sri Lanka are in a terrific position in which to bat England out of the game.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo