Prior heroics can't save England A
Sri Lanka 145 and 296 (Kalavitigoda 83, Bandara 50) beat England A 157 (Shah 50, Bandara 8-49) and 245 (Prior 104, Bandara 3-77) by 39 runs
Sri Lanka A tied the unofficial two-match Test series 1-1 despite a heroic fightback from Matthew Prior, England's Sussex-based wicketkeeper, who cracked 104 from just 106 balls to revitalise a run-chase that had been in terminal decline. Prior had arrived at the crease with the score on 22 for 5 in pursuit of 285, and though Sri Lanka were made to sweat, it was fitting that the final word was provided by Malinga Bandara, who sealed the 40-run victory late on the third afternoon after an outstanding match performance.
Sri Lanka A had started the day in their best position of the series, 199 runs ahead with five wickets remaining. They strengthened their grip during the first hour despite the early loss of Prasanna Jayawardene (32), as Jehan Mubarak (36) and Bandara (50) added 46 for the seventh wicket. But England's offspinners, Graham Swann and Richard Dawson, then hurried the innings to close to the leave England requiring a tough but not impossible 285-run target.
English hopes all but evaporated after a spectacular early collapse. The slide was started by Gayan Wijekoon, a gentle-looking left-armer, who dismissed both Vikram Solanki and Ian Bell for ducks in his first over. Owais Shah, the top-scorer in the first innings, was also dismissed for a duck and only Alistair Cook (36) provided any top-order resistance.
However, just when England's cause appeared hopeless, Prior, 23, launched a stunning counterattack. He was particularly severe on Bandara, the key dangerman after his first-innings eight-for, who bleed runs in his opening overs and was soon forced out of the attack. Swann (71) provided stout and enterprising support and the pair galloped along at over a run a ball, adding 126 on 20.2 overs.
England A had won back the initiative when Mubarak, Sri Lanka A's captain, took an inspired punt and brought on Thilina Kandamby, a part-time legspinner. He snared Swann and then Bandara moved in for the kill, polishing up his expensive figures to finish with a match haul of 11 for 126 - a performance that relit his international ambitions seven years after he played his only Test at the tender age of 19.
Rod Marsh, England A's coach, conceded that defeat was always on the cards after the dreadful start to the innings. "When three of your top four get nought you are going to have trouble chasing 285," he said, "although there were a couple of fantastic innings. We did very well to get ten wickets for 296."
Marsh rated Bandara's performance in the first innings as "absolutely outstanding' but felt he had been less effective second-time around. "The pitch was less responsive today. It didn't bounce and turn as much as in the first innings. He bowled magnificently in the first innings but I don't think he bowled well in the second innings. But he got three wickets. It is a sign of a good bowler."
Afterwards, Sri Lanka's coach, Stan Nel, praised the batting of Prior and Swann, but was pleased with his side's patience. "At this level of cricket [that's what] it's all about. We had a gameplan and we were patient and we went through with it although it was a very difficult period. All credit to the captain [Jehan Mubarak] for keeping his cool and the cool of the team and finally winning it.
Nel described Bandara as `a fantastic cricketer' and said: "He has all the attributes of a complete allround modern-day cricketer. He is athletic, he fields and bowls well and he gives you a great option with the bat. He has waited for four years patiently for an opportunity to be given to him and he has certainly taken it with both hands."