Swann over was decisive - Jayawardene
Mahela Jayawardene was left to rue missing the opportunity for Sri Lanka's first Test series victory since 2009 and believes if they had survived Graeme Swann's last over on the fourth evening they would have saved the match.
The complexion of the game was changed by Swann who claimed two wickets in the penultimate over to leave the home side with a huge task on the final day. A couple of early dropped catches by Alastair Cook suggested it would be a frustrating time for England, but when Jayawardene received one that spat from Swann this time the catch was taken and Sri Lanka's main hope had gone.
"On a fourth-day wicket that will happen, especially against the second new ball and we knew Graeme would get more bite with it," Jayawardene said. "It was a period we had to survive and if we'd got through the situation I think we would have batted through two more sessions and the game would have been different but that's the quality Swann has.
"Graeme is one of the best offspinners I've faced and he's got variety. We knew going into the series that he would be the challenge. Him and Jimmy Anderson are the two main bowlers that will bowl well in any conditions, which proved the case. We handled them well on some occasions but when you are up against two quality bowlers they will strike as well."
Although those late losses on the fourth evening knocked the stuffing out of Sri Lanka, Jayawardene pinpointed the first two days as the key period of the game. Having won what was expected to be an important toss Sri Lanka could only post 275 and England's top three set a platform from where Kevin Pietersen was able to take the game away from them with a destructive 151 on the third day.
"Before the game started I said the first innings is a very important part, especially in the subcontinent where you need to take advantage up front to put the opposition under pressure," Jayawardene said. "We didn't do that, but credit to the England bowlers who did really well on the first day. I thought 350-375 would have been a good score and the difference was that towards the end. We were playing against a strong team. I thought KP came and changed the game with the way he batted. He took some risks and it paid off."
Jayawardene also stood out with the bat and was named Man of the Series for his 354 runs at 88.50, includeding two centuries. "Over the previous two overseas tours I hadn't been consistent so I had to improve," Jayawardene said of his own performance. "In Australia my one-day form was pretty good and I was able to continue with that. I felt in Test cricket I went too negative, going into my shell but in Galle I came out of that very quickly. Even though at times it looked slow I was in control. I'm doing a lot of things right but the next tour will be a different challenge."
With a little more support the outcome could have been different for Sri Lanka. Kumar Sangakkara's struggles left a big hole in their run-scoring capability although Angelo Mathews suggested during the second Test that he can forge a career as a specialist batsman. Overall, however, Jayawardene was content with his team's performance and the fact they shared a series against the No. 1 Test side. The game in Sri Lanka faces a number of difficulties - not least financial - but following on from their impressive showing in the one-day tournament in Australia, where they almost claimed the title, there were signs that their longer game can develop.
"Good players will step up and that's what England have got. But I'm quite happy, we kept fighting and gave ourselves a chance," he said. "Going forward we can develop the youngsters so as long as the commitment levels are there I'm quite happy. It was a good indication of where we are right now, especially in our conditions. We played against very good opposition and that gave us the chance to challenge ourselves."
Edited by Alan Gardner
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo