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The Report by George Dobell
March 27, 2012
Sri Lanka 318 (Jayawardene 180, Anderson 5-72) and 84 for 5 (Swann 4-28) lead England 193 (Bell 52, Herath 6-74) by 209 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Rangana Herath exposed England's failings against spin bowling once more as Sri Lanka took a firm grip on the first Test in Galle. Seventeen wickets fell in the day as batsmen on both sides struggled to play the turning ball and set up the prospect of a three-day finish.
The match is not over. England's bowlers - excellent as ever - fought back with five wickets in the evening session, but a first innings deficit of 125 should prove decisive on a surface that is expected to deteriorate. Sri Lanka had stretched that lead to 209 by the close despite a four-wicket haul from Graeme Swann. Bear in mind that England were dismissed for under 200 four times in the UAE and that they have never made more than 253 at Galle, and it becomes apparent that Sri Lanka have established a dominant position.
England's bowlers could be forgiving for wondering what more they have to do to help their side win a Test. They have performed consistently well over the last couple of years - not just with the ball, but with the bat - yet, in the last three months, England's batsmen have failed equally consistently.
Those batsmen are running out of excuses. While in the UAE England could claim a lack of familiarity with the conditions and a certain rustiness after a relatively long break from the game, those issues are not relevant here. Nor have they come up against a foe as supremely gifted as the Pakistan spinner, Saeed Ajmal.
On this occasion the destroyer was Herath, a 34-year-old left-arm spinner who, not so long ago, was plying his trade in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League with only modest success. He is a clever, disciplined bowler, but he is no Ajmal or Murali or Warne. And, on a blameless, second-day pitch, he should not have been allowed to take six wickets.
Herath gained a little turn, bowled at a gentle pace with traditional variations and received only grudging assistance from the surface. Yet it still proved too much for England. Perhaps mentally disturbed by their experiences in the UAE, several batsmen missed straight balls or played back when they should have been forward.
There were exceptions. Ian Bell, the one specialist batsman to offer any meaningful resistance, was bowled by a beauty that drew him forward, turned and clipped the top of off stump. Bell, who contributed more runs in this innings than he managed in the entire series in the UAE, timed the ball beautifully whether driving or cutting and, when the opportunity arose, showed a willingness to hit over the top. Generally, however, England will reflect that they sold their top-order wickets a little too cheaply.
The sight of Jonathan Trott lying flat on his back with his wicket broken summed up England's performance with the bat. Trott had just been stumped after advancing down the pitch and missing a cross-batted swish at a full toss. In trying to regain his ground he came off second best as his head struck the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene in the chest and he was momentarily left stunned and legless as the hosts celebrated all around him.
Andrew Strauss missed a sweep, Samit Patel and Matt Prior both paid the penalty for playing back when they should have been forward - Patel the victim of an arm ball and Prior one that spun past his outside edge - and while England avoided the ignominy of following-on - a distinct possibly when they were 92 for 6 - they still faced the prospect of a fourth successive Test defeat.
That England were not obliged to follow-on was largely due to the performance of their tailenders. They put the pitch - and the bowling - in perspective as the bottom four contributed 88 runs. Broad thumped 28 out of a seventh-wicket stand of 30, launching into a series of pulls, cuts and drives off Lakmal, while James Anderson, Graeme Swann and even Monty Panesar also put the efforts of the top four - who contributed 41 runs between them - to shame. The ease with which Anderson drove, swept and even reverse-swept boundaries spoke volumes not just for his improvement as a batsmen but the failure of his top-order colleagues to take advantage of a blameless pitch and a worthy but hardly fearsome attack.
Herath was well supported by Sri Lanka's seamers and the off-spinner Suraj Randiv. Alastair Cook was trapped on the crease by a fine delivery that nipped back from Suranga Lakmal, while Kevin Pietersen played-on off the inside edge as he tried to drive a good-length ball from Chanaka Welegedara. Randiv, in mopping up the tail, claimed two for 26 to leave Sri Lanka's spinners with an accumulative analysis of eight for 100.
Sri Lanka failed to exploit their advantage to the full in the evening session. After Tillakaratne Dilshan, his head falling to the off side, was defeated by a full delivery, Swann bowled with flight and turn to suggest he remains as potent a force as ever. The left-handers, Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara, were both beaten by balls that drew them into shots then turned away sharply, while the right-handers Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera were defeated by deliveries that slid on with the arm. Swann had four for 28 by the close.
Earlier Anderson took the final two wickets to claim his first five-wicket haul in a Test in Asian conditions. It took only 6.3 overs for England to finish off the Sri Lanka innings, with Anderson finishing with five for 72; the 12th five-wicket haul of his Test career and his third outside England. Mahela Jayawardene was the last to go for a magical 180. It says much for his performance that the next highest contribution in the match so far is just 52. It may well surely prove the difference.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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