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December 20, 2007
Batsman of the day
Mahela Jayawardene may have been Sri Lanka's stand-out performer, but the most fluent batsman of the day was his partner Chaminda Vaas. He's more than just a tailender these days - earlier this year he picked up his maiden Test hundred against Bangladesh. He deserved a second century today, as he flogged England into submission with a succession of thumps, drives and swishes. They were agricultural but hugely effective, but in the end the allure of three figures proved too much. Mind you, Michael Vaughan did his utmost to drop the steepling top-edge that eventually did for Vaas. The bowler, Matthew Hoggard, didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Drop of the day
He's at it again. Matt Prior's third clanger of the match came at precisely the right moment to destroy what remained of England's dwindling resolve. Jayawardene had only added five runs to his overnight 149, when he edged low to Prior's right, off the luckless Ryan Sidebottom. He got both mitts to the chance but couldn't cling on, and a furious Sidebottom stalked down to fine leg in an understandable huff. That was the fifth chance that Prior has spilled off his bowling in six Tests, and the missed victims - Jaffer, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dilshan and Jayawardene - are not exactly the type of players who squander such lifelines.
Fielder of the day
If England were slipshod, Sri Lanka were electric when their turn came to field. Doubtless they were gagging for a run-about after two days cooped up in the pavilion, but the stand-out performer was Tillakaratne Dilshan. Yesterday he was himself run out for 84; today he put the skids under England's innings with a superb swoop and shy from the covers, to dismiss Ian Bell at the non-striker's end. It was a crass bit of calling from Bell's partner Alastair Cook, but suddenly England's innings was reminiscent of the last time Bell was run out in a Test ... on that fateful day at Adelaide last winter.
Crass dismissal of the day
It's hard to quantity the various depths that England plumbed in their day's work, but two men were more culpable than their colleagues. First there was Michael Vaughan, who set the tone for England's innings with arguably the most stone-cold lbw of the year. He'd watched from the non-strikers' end as Vaas zipped his offcutters past Cook's prodding edge, but then - when he finally got on strike - he decided to offer no stroke to a ball that started a fraction outside off stump, and sure enough snaked back in to rap the pads.
Crass dismissal of the day no. 2
England's cricket in this series can best be summed up as naïve, and alas, Ravi Bopara epitomised that in the manner of his departure. England had only been back on the field for three balls after lunch when he lobbed an awful whip across the line straight to mid-on. The catcher, incidentally, was the debutant Chanaka Welegedara, who can hardly have hoped for a tamer introduction to Test cricket. Two days with his feet up in the dressing room, then a lollipop of a catch to settle the nerves.
Delivery of the day
Kevin Pietersen has faced some snorters in his lifetime, but few have been as blisteringly quick, accurate or unexpected as the exocet that Lasith Malinga unleashed before lunch. It skimmed off the deck like a tennis ball out of the surf, fizzed at Pietersen's face, and brushed his glove as he whipped his body out of line in a movement reminiscent of Robin Smith against the West Indian quicks. Up went the finger, as Pietersen froze at the crease, transfixed by the venom of the delivery. Subcontinental wickets aren't meant to provide bounce like that, but it's thrilling when they do.
Contest of the day
Seeing as the English weren't providing any opposition, the Sri Lankans decided to play among themselves. After the rain-break they re-emerged 20 minutes early for a warm-up, most of which time was spent playing bowls with a set of spare cricket balls. Muralitharan, as you might imagine, produced some wicked spin to land his attempts on a sixpence. He's a pretty handy allrounder, it would appear.
Hold-up of the day
So far in this series we've been held up by bees, dogs and an awful lot of rain, but "cultural experience stops play" is a new one, I'm sure. Play was all set to resume after lunch, but down on the concourse in front of the indoor nets, a frenzy of Kandyan drummers and dancers were bongoing away to themselves, quite oblivious to the umpires' gesticulations. Eventually they got the message and trooped off, a touch disconsolately. And with good reason too. No-one has yet asked the Barmy Army to shut up.
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