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December 20, 2007
There was always potential for England's dramatic slump, but they took it to extremes. Thoughts briefly turned to the record books and their low points; 45 against Australia in 1887, narrowly bettered by their 46 at Trinidad in 1994. Although those ignominies were avoided, their eventual meagre total is the first time they have been bowled for less than a 100 since 2002 against Australia at Brisbane. Sri Lanka bowled superbly as a unit, showing that there is plenty in the surface, but England's strokeplay spoke volumes of their mind set.
For the second match running they had been through a draining experience in the field and the top order didn't appear in any state to mount a rearguard that would at least save face, if not the series. The bare statistics give the best picture; England's feeble lasted 30.5 overs, while during the morning Sri Lanka slammed 115 runs in 19.5.
The first two wickets were typical of a team that had one eye on the flight home. After spending 149 overs trying to marshall his bowlers, Michael Vaughan inexplicably padded up to Vaas, a horrendous misjudgement with the ball heading for middle. Partly that was good bowling, but the second wicket was a mess all of England's own making. Alastair Cook dropped the ball into the off side, called for a run then changed his mind. Ian Bell tried to turn around, but couldn't beat Tillakaratne Dilshan's direct hit from backward point. It was another feather in Dilshan's cap during an impressive return to the Test scene and reminded everyone that he remains one of premier cover-point fielders in the world. That one moment put England's lethargic efforts to shame.
Cook failed to make amends with a major innings, nibbling outside off stump as Vaas showed how to bowl in helpful conditions. After swing undid Cook, a brutal delivery from Lasith Malinga brought the end of Kevin Pietersen. A searing ball flew off a length and brushed Pietersen's gloves through to Prasanna Jayawardene as he tried to sway out of the line. There wasn't much he could have done and he has one innings remaining to avoid this series being his first without at least a half-century.
England lunched in a miserable state at 24 for 4 and nothing improved after the break when Ravi Bopara, who batted with split webbing in his right hand sustained during the morning warm-ups, limply chipped to mid-on, allowing debutant Chanaka Welegedara to make his first impact. Vaas knew exactly how to operate on this surface, full and straight with a hint of variation, and gained more rewards when Matt Prior was beaten by one which kept low. If he'd been forward he would have had a chance, but England were planted on the back foot in every sense.
Rain sent them to the safety of the dressing for three hours, but there was no escaping another tricky spell. Paul Collingwood and Ryan Sidebottom showed some resistance, but once Sidebottom edged Muttiah Muralitharan to short leg the rest folded meekly. Welegedara was rewarded for a nippy burst when he bowled Collingwood with a beauty which held its line and had Matthew Hoggard taken at slip. The shambles was summed up when Monty Panesar was run out in a chaotic mix-up.
The scoreline handsomely justifies Jayawardene's decision to push England to breaking point in the field. He missed out on a double by five runs in Colombo, but made no mistake this time and reached the landmark in empathic style. Facing a comeback over from Steve Harmison he elegantly lofted him over the covers to bring up his double off 406 balls. He'd offered one more chance, on 154, with Prior again unable to gather an edge low to his right off Sidebottom, who looked ready to walk off in disgust.
In the last Test played on this ground, before the devastating tsunami, against South Africa in 2004, Jayawardene hit 237 so it was an innings to befit the occasion. Vaas was equally dominant, crunching 11 boundaries in his 133-ball 90. He appeared set for his second Test century when he top-edged Hoggard to Vaughan at midwicket, but even the simplest of catches needed two attempts. The England captain escaped embarrassment on that occasion, but his team are facing humiliation.
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