England fight but face battle to survive
England 351 and 48 for 0 (Vaughan 28*, Cook 13*) trail Sri Lanka 548 for 9 dec (M Jayawardene 195, Vandort 138, P Jayawardene 79, Sidebottom 3-100, Harmison 3-111) by 149 runs
How they were out
It wasn't the most attractive day of Test cricket, but Sri Lanka's batsmen put them in a dominating position on the fourth day at Colombo with a 197-run lead over a weary England, grinding their noses into the ground. As ever, Muttiah Muralitharan looms large but England's openers took them to a position of relative comfort, racing to 48 before bad light curtailed the day's play.
It was another torrid, wearying day for England's bowlers who battled in intense heat to pick up 5 for 169 before Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, finally ended their misery with a declaration 30 minutes after tea. The ease with which Prasanna Jayawardene, the wicketkeeper, batted with his No.10, Dilhara Fernando, belied the consistent allround effort England's bowlers showed - in particular Steve Harmison, who improved upon his encouraging display yesterday with a determined and disciplined performance on a lifeless pitch.
It was he who gave England early hope of restricting Sri Lanka's lead, too, removing Jehan Mubarak with a nasty lifter. Stuart Broad, England's 6ft 7in debutant, also stuck to his task and was rewarded with his maiden Test wicket when Chaminda Vaas - no rabbit with the bat at No.8 - was too late on a pull, gloving a bouncer to Ian Bell at slip. It was just reward for Broad for what has been a daunting introduction to Test cricket.
Jayawardene lacked the fluency and elegance he showed yesterday, and threw away his wicket with an ugly slog off Monty Panesar, top-edging a simple catch to Paul Collingwood at second slip. It was the first and last sign of any form of urgency from a Sri Lanka batsman who, from then on, blocked their way to the declaration, grinding England's noses and spirits into the ground.
Panesar hasn't bowled with his magical, tantalising flight during this series but was much improved today and, after dismissing Jayawardene, bowled with greater control, trapping Lasith Malinga in front to briefly give hope to England of limiting Sri Lanka's lead to under 100. However, with one Jayawardene dismissed, England were at the mercy of another, the wicketkeeper who was ably assisted by Dilhara Fernando. The pair put on a determined and turgid ninth-wicket stand of 98, just when England felt they had broken the back of Sri Lanka's innings.
It was grizzly cricket but hugely effective for Sri Lanka, as England's shoulders dropped. Fernando, with a beaming smile and equally enthusiastic defensive technique, rode his luck against Kevin Pietersen, smacking a straight drive to bring up Sri Lanka's 500 and the pair's fifty partnership.
Jayawardene might not share his captain's elegance or range of strokes, but there was no denying his application. He rode the bounce of Harmison's shorter deliveries and used his feet well to Panesar, flicking him through midwicket before slamming one over mid-off. His second Test fifty came from 109 balls.
England didn't enjoy much luck, however. Fernando back-cut Pietersen for four before he was rapped on the back leg, seemingly plump in front. And, off the next ball, Prior should have stumped him but the ball somehow lodged itself between his pad and leg. As tea approached, Sri Lanka's lead went past 150, and England were on their knees.
The declaration finally came when Jayawardene edged Harmison behind for 79, causing the bowler to roar his delight, justifiably, too, as he bowled with impressive energy and discipline for a man returning from injury. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka's lead reached 197 and England had an hour of Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan in which to survive.
Impressively - particularly on a day in which the run-rate barely lifted above three per over - Cook and Vaughan were immediately into their stride, cracking 48 from 13 overs. Cook picked off two classy fours, showing impressive timing, while Vaughan continued his fine form, driving with aplomb to reach 28 by stumps.
The pitch remains flat and true, and hasn't cracked up nearly as much as England feared. But Muralitharan remains the big threat, and England have a big fight on their hands.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo