Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 4th day April 6, 2012

England rewarded for digging deep

Just as on day one, England's bowlers plugged away until the close to gain an edge in their pursuit of victory

England's cricketers will not know what has hit them when they return home on Sunday. The domestic season has dawned with temperatures requiring multiple layers, while the international players have been sweating buckets trying to regain their reputation in Sri Lanka. Never more so than the fourth day in Colombo, which ended with them sensing a series-levelling victory.

That chance, though, did not appear so close just two overs from the close. Graeme Swann was tossed the ball for six deliveries and in the space of three of them changed the complexion of the day. Before Thilan Samaraweera was beaten by sharp turn, bottom edging into leg stump, Sri Lanka had forged a position from where safety was a realistic aim yet a few minutes later England left the field buoyant. Well, as buoyant as they could be after 90 overs of unremitting hard work.

It is impossible not admire that trait about the England team. Sure, they have had their problems in recent months but they never shirk from doing the hard yards in the field. It has been a hallmark of their cricket in recent years. Matt Prior reckoned he had lost about 3kg by lunch, let alone what another two sessions had done to him after bending and squatting at least 540 times in the day.

"On days like today you have to sit in and be attritional, hope that you get your opportunities and take them, more importantly," Prior said. "It's massive, you think you've earned it. It doesn't always happen like that. Sometimes you walk off with them four down and think we put a lot of work in and didn't get rewards. Thankfully we got them today."

England banked on making something happen with the new ball - although Swann was probably not the expected route - which put the onus on James Anderson and Steven Finn to respond at the end of a long day. Anderson's final six-over spell (which cost just five runs and could easily have claimed a wicket) was as good as anything he had bowled in the match. That is the hallmark of a supreme athlete and wonderful bowler.

Swann is often quick to deprecate himself by highlighting how he skips in off a few steps, but in these situations the pressure is on the spinner. He is meant to be the matchwinner. Time and again Swann has delivered for England. When he was brought on during the afternoon - after Samit Patel had surprisingly been used at the start of the session - he struck first ball, albeit slightly controversially, to remove Tillakaratne Dilshan. That first-over trick is returning, as Samaraweera (and Suraj Randiv) later found out.

In between he prized out Kumar Sangakkara who, regardless of his struggle for form, remains a key wicket. To keep him quiet throughout a series, even a short one, is another feather in the bowlers' caps. It is well known how much Swann enjoys bowling at left-handers (which conventional offspinner has not?) and it was engaging to watch to him tease and tempt Sangakkara.

When he is at his best Swann gives Strauss two options - attack and defence. In the first innings, especially on the second morning, he helped ensure the scoring rate did not escape England, so when wickets did fall Sri Lanka had not moved too far. Too his credit, Patel also performed that role - his match economy rate stands at under two an over - but he does not possess the same skill of suddenly snaffling a vital wicket, although could have had Mahela Jayawardene if Tim Bresnan had leapt a little higher at mid-on in the first over after tea.

There were moments when the game when flat and you wondered if England were running out of puff. However, as on the first day when they claimed crucial late success which swayed the balance their way they had reserves left in their deep tanks.

"In these conditions you have to pick your moments when you go up and go through the gears," Prior explained. "Not only as bowlers, but as a fielding unit. We used the second new ball really well, we knew it was a good chance to fire in. Led by Jimmy and Finny the whole energy levels raised up and I think that's why we created those chances."

The job, however, is not quite done. By a quirk of Sri Lanka using two nightwatchmen in the innings - Dhammika Prasad opened the batting last night before Randiv came in at No. 7 - it means Angelo Mathews is at the crease with Prasanna Jayawardene still to come. Both have Test hundreds, while Mahela Jaywardene was still at the crease, defying England again.

"We'd be reluctant to think we can just roll them over. It's still a good wicket and we have four more to get out," Prior said. "It will be tough work. Hopefully we can roll through them but that's not what we are expecting. Whatever they set us we'll back ourselves to get."

The last time England had a realistic fourth-innings run chase it proved way beyond them as they collapsed for 72 in Abu Dhabi trying to reach 145. "Sometimes to have the opportunity again is the best way to exorcise a ghost," Prior said. "Each individual knows how we got it wrong that time. It was a long time ago now, in cricket terms, and we've moved on."

This is the first occasion during the year that England have taken a Test to the fifth day. They will hope it is a short one, but will not be afraid of digging deep again. They really know no other way.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shanmugam on April 9, 2012, 23:23 GMT

    @csowmi7, Ajmal has played a grand total of 20 tests, 7 of them in the UAE, 3 in SL and 2 in Bangladesh. He has played no tests against India (the best players of spin) and the one test he played in Australia resulted in match figures of 2/223 for an average of 111.50 per wicket. So, perhaps we should reserve judgement on his abilities till he plays all countries everywhere. Swann has done just that and has managed to keep his average around 28 after playing so many tests which is very good for the modern day off-spinner. Ajmal's variations would mean little if he cannot take wickets everywhere. I do accept that he is better in the UAE. Regarding his performances in West Indies, who told you that those tracks were not favoring spin. Bishoo too did reasonably well in that series. These are not the yesteryear Windies pitches that favored pace. Some of the England pitches offer help to spinners too. Look at Swann's performances there. Too early to say Ajmal is the best.

  • John on April 7, 2012, 7:48 GMT

    @maddy20 on (April 06 2012, 22:33 PM GMT) Then is it a selection problem in India as to why these weren't playing in the England tour?

  • John on April 7, 2012, 7:48 GMT

    Again another topsy turvy day with Eng doing well to get SL 4 down and then SL digging in and then Eng getting 2 wickets late on. I'd say it could be 50/50 between Eng winning and a draw which is a worse position than I felt we were in this time yesterday. The daunting thing is that although SL are 6 down they still have to get 2 adept batsmen out (2 from Matthews and the 2 Js). Regardless of whether we win or not I feel that the selectors have been poor by not trying the 5 man bowling attack and when you look at what Swann has done you wonder what Monty might also have achieved.

  • Simon on April 7, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    @jmcilhinney -- oh yeah, certainly can't fault the umpire, and imo the third umpire did exactly what he was supposed to: there's no way that was a howler, even if with the god's-eye-view it could be shown that he didn't hit it. I wasn't complaining about the umpire at all in any way!

  • sowmi on April 7, 2012, 4:58 GMT

    @shan156 Ajmal has a lower average than swann and has better variations than swann. Also he has taken 5 wicket hauls in England and West Indies where there is nothing for spinners. In the recent series in UAE we saw the difference between Swann and Ajmal. @maddy20 By no means am I underestimating pujara and Rahane. I know they have bundles of talent and can go on to become stalwarts of the game but the fact is they are inexperienced and are yet to face quality bowling in the international level. Also I agree that Laxman should be pushed aside. But as for Tendulkar I feel he can still play for another 2-3 years as he needs to be there to guide the youngsters. Youth needs to be infused but a complete overhaul will only cause problems. Look what happened to Australia and WI. Even in the recent series it was Ponting clarke and Hussey who performed not youngsters.

  • Amila on April 7, 2012, 4:44 GMT

    although the score board says SL 6 Down But the reality is two of them are Bowlers , with Mahela and Mathiews at the crease and Prasanna to come there is a possibility for SL to score decent enough runs and test the English Batsmen on fourth innings

  • John on April 7, 2012, 2:58 GMT

    @simon_w, I think that there's a good chance that Dilshan hit the ball, but I also think that there's a good chance that he didn't. I would guess that the umpire was influenced by the fact that there were two noises but, with the slo-mo replays, you could tell that the first noise was ball on pad and the second was bat on ground. I could see the mark on the bat you refer, and others, refer to but I'm not sure that contact that could make that mark would not make a noise too. Regardless, I don't think that you can really call it a bad decision by the umpire. He got one look at normal speed and under the circumstances I think giving it out is a reasonable decision. You also can't hold it against the third umpire because there really is no way to tell for sure either way even with all those replays. Even with HotSpot, as you say, we could still only confirm an edge and not necessarily deny one. If that red mark was from the ball though, I'm sure HotSpot would have picked it up too.

  • Srinivas on April 7, 2012, 2:03 GMT

    Absolutely stunning come back by the Brits. Wow, what a test match! An England win here will not go down well with us Indians. But big up to them. Very well played England. KP rocks. Swann is proving to be a handful in these conditions. This will do a world of good to his dented confidence.

  • Rishi on April 7, 2012, 1:22 GMT

    It is anyone's game now, though it seems like ENG may win. If SL piles up a lead of atleast 150 (which is not unthinkable), then winning may be difficult for ENG. Lets see what Swann got under his arm. Nonetheless, the day 5 will result in an exciting finish. Good luck to both teams.

  • Peter on April 7, 2012, 0:28 GMT

    I really do hope England wins - I really like their work ethic. It all depends on Swan now- India is way better than SL - They can at least pay their players on time and prepare better cricket pitches

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