Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 4th day

Swann strikes raise England's hopes of victory

The Report by David Hopps

April 6, 2012

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Sri Lanka 275 and 218 for 6 (Jayawardene 55*, Swann 4-82) lead England 460 (Pietersen 151, Herath 6-133) by 33 runs
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Graeme Swann celebrates the wicket of Thilan Samaraweera, Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, P Sara Oval, 4th day, April 6, 2012
Graeme Swann roars in delight after removing Thilan Samaraweera in the penultimate over of the day © Getty Images
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It was a Poya Day in Sri Lanka and a rudimentary sign at the P Sara Stadium told England supporters the awful truth: no alcohol would be served. They have watched England lose Test matches in Asia all winter and the moment they imagined that a celebration might be on hand they feared they would have to do it stone-cold sober. No matter: thanks to Sri Lanka's resilience, if there is a celebration to be had, the bars will be back open by then.

Sri Lanka, who must avoid defeat to secure their first Test series win for two years, have stubbornly dragged the second Test into the final day, in which they will begin 33 runs ahead with four wickets remaining, one of them their impassive captain, Mahela Jayawardene, whose outstanding series continued with a composed, unbeaten 55, from 157 balls, which spread balm upon an occasionally testy fourth day.

But even Jayawardene's placid mood must have been shaken when Graeme Swann's offspin struck with two wickets in the penultimate over of the day. A four-wicket day would have left England doubting that they could win their first Test of the winter; a six-wicket day imbued them with optimism.

Swann, armed with a second new ball that was only nine overs old, transformed the picture in the space of three ball. Firstly came a ripper to Thilan Samareweera that followed him as he made room to cut and caused him to play on, followed by one that turned through the gate to defeat Suraj Randiv's defensive push.

With memories still fresh of England's collapse to 72 all out against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, in pursuit of 145, nothing will be taken for granted. "A lead of 150 will be a very good lead," said Samaraweera. "Anything can happen on this wicket on the final day."

Sri Lanka, who made only 134 in a careworn last two sessions, will rue their misfortune. They were frustrated by the dismissal of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who fell to Swann, for 35, in controversial circumstances. There have been too many times this winter when match reports have turned into a treatise on the DRS and this one is no different because the philosophy behind it is still not comprehended by many, some of whom should know better.

Smart stats

  • Mahela Jayawardene's present tally of 345 runs in the series is second on the list of highest aggregates by a Sri Lankan batsman in a series against England and his second-highest in a two-match series.
  • Jayawardene became the first Sri Lankan batsman to pass 2000 runs against England. and only the third subcontinent batsman after Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar to score over 2000 runs against England.
  • Kumar Sangakkara's aggregate of 35 runs in four innings equals his lowest ever in a Test series. Previously, he had scored 35 runs against Bangladesh in 2005.
  • Graeme Swann, went past Jim Laker on the list of England spinners with the most four-wicket hauls. He now has 23 four-wicket hauls while the leader Derek Underwood has 30.
  • Swann became only the sixth spinner and 13th bowler overall to pick up four or more wickets in the game twice in a Test in Sri Lanka. Shane Warne is the only spinner to achieve the feat twice.
  • Since the beginning of 2009, Swann's record against left-handers is 87 wickets at 18.73. In the same period, his 85 wickets against right-handers have come at an average of 36.71.
  • On six occasions, Sri Lanka have played over 100 overs in a home Test in the third innings to secure a draw (twice at the P Sara Oval). The lowest target defended by Sri Lanka at home is 168 against Pakistan in 2009.

Swann appealed as Dilshan pushed forward to a ball that turned and the ball squeezed off pad, and perhaps a sliver of an inside edge, to James Anderson at slip. The Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford gave it out and Dilshan, without as much of a glance at his batting partner Kumar Sangakkara called for a review. After innumerable replays, Rod Tucker, the third umpire, found no conclusive evidence to overturn the decision. As Hot Spot is not being used in this series, he would have needed clear daylight between the bat and outside edge to be confident there had been no contact.

Graham Ford, Sri Lanka's coach, marched into the match referee's room to demand an explanation, following a route trod by his England counterpart, Andy Flower, earlier in the Test. There has been so much to-ing and fro-ing that match referee's rooms will soon need to come with steel doors and double locks. As for Dilshan, he studied replays on his laptop with a sense of injustice.

An explanation should not have been necessary. DRS exists to overturn obvious umpiring mistakes, not to seek justification for an umpiring decision. If there is no proof that the decision of an on-field umpire should be overturned then the status quo remains and the umpire's decision stands. If there was an error - and the hint of a red mark on Dilshan's inside edge insisted that nothing was certain - the error was that of the on-field umpire and DRS merely upheld the decision. It is really quite simple. But this basic philosophy is rarely accepted by those whose loyalties run deep.

England lost a review when DRS upheld Oxenford's rejection of an lbw appeal by Swann against Sangakkara, but Swann got his man with a sharply-turning delivery that was edged through to Matt Prior.

England picked up the wickets of Dhammika Prasad, the nightwatchman, and Lahiru Thirimanne in the morning session. A recourse to a nightwatchman for an opening batsman is unusual , although not unknown. Sri Lanka have taken the option before when Rangana Herath opening against Pakistan in Galle three years ago under Kumar Sangakkara's captaincy. A draining climate makes it perfectly understandable.

Dilshan had had a taxing third day in the field, bowling 20 overs and becoming embroiled in a psychological stand-off with Kevin Pietersen over his contentious use of the switch hit. He had an allrounder's right to a bit of protection, but having drawn attention to himself in more ways than one he received a predictable amount of chirruping from England's fielders. At one stage the umpire Asad Rauf told the England captain, Andrew Strauss, that enough was enough.

Swann's offspin held most threat for England on a wearing pitch with occasional deliveries rearing and turning, but he was the only specialist spinner and Strauss chose to delay his entrance until the first hour had almost elapsed in anticipation of a long and tiring day. He will be relieved that he did not give him the last hour off instead.

The two early wickets fell to the quicker bowlers. James Anderson has the measure of Thirimanne and he slanted a ball across the left-hander in the ninth over for Strauss to hold the catch at first slip. Prior, who had missed a routine stumping off Swann in the previous over, was mightily relieved. Prasad acquitted himself well, surviving past drinks. He was dropped off Swann by the sprawling Steven Finn at mid off and reached 34 before Finn set him up for a short ball which he pulled obligingly to Tim Bresnan at deep backward square.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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