Toss: Sri Lanka.
This was a bruising, bar-room brawl of a Test, the type that, pre-Fletcher, England would not have won. But with a now-habitual steel, win it they did, squaring the series. In several respects, Kandy was a classic. Thanks to an exemplary pitch that encouraged strokeplay, rewarded seam and took spin - yet never broke up as predicted - the initiative was batted back and forth like a ping-pong ball. And the drama unfolded against a backdrop of hazy blue mountains, fringed with palm and flame trees.
Undermining it all, however, was more lamentable umpiring. By some counts there were 15 errors, and tempers inevitably boiled over, coming to a head on the explosive third day - ironically a poya day, or "day of peace" for the predominantly Buddhist population. Referee Hanumant Singh issued severe reprimands to Atherton and Sangakkara, as well as fining Jayasuriya 60 per cent of his match fee for dissent and adding a suspended ban of two Tests and two one-day internationals. Both umpires had dreadful games, and most errors favoured England. Home official B. C. Cooray was especially vilified: "BC Bats for England" ran one local headline.
On the first morning, Sri Lanka sped to 69 for two in 16 overs, de Silva and Sangakkara repairing early damage. Then White's third delivery induced two errors: first Sangakkara took his eye off the ball and deflected it, via his elbow, to gully, whereupon Koertzen gave him out. Ostentatious rubbing of his forearm earned Sangakkara his first reproof. Soon afterwards, White removed de Silva, and a precarious 80 for four would have become a teetering 80 for five had Trescothick, at gully, not dropped Arnold.
Sri Lanka lunched at 93 for four but took tea 123 sparkling runs on, the innings turned round by Jayawardene. Soon afterwards he completed a chanceless fifth Test century, bristling with confident pulls and cuts, then was out, mishooking Caddick. Arnold, let off by umpiring errors on 41 and 44, and Dilshan added another 56 before Gough and Caddick took the new ball. Its effect was devastating and immediate: the last five wickets clattered for 20 runs.
England spirits took a dent next morning, though, with both openers gone by 37. Fourteen months earlier, Cooray had started a nightmare run of form for Hussain when he interpreted an edged four as lbw. Now he helped to end it. Hussain and Thorpe played superbly, adding 167 (an all-wicket England record against Sri Lanka), but there was little doubt that Muralitharan twice had Hussain caught off pad and bat, on 53 and 62. Not so, ruled Cooray, provoking the fielders to fury. Hussain exploited his fortune to hit a courageous, morale-boosting hundred. By the close, though, he and Thorpe had gone, together with the feckless Hick. Twice reprieved by Cooray in 11 balls, Hick seemed determined to make a duck and duly did.
The third day began in familiar fashion: Stewart, not given out when he should have been, was later given out when he shouldn't. He, White and the tail steered the lead to 90. And then the match ignited, fuelled by a volatile mixture of execrable umpiring, irritating tail-end resistance and inspired new-ball bowling. Atapattu had already gone in Gough's first over when Caddick steamed in from the Buddhist Research Institute end, Jayasuriya flashed and Thorpe held a phenomenal airborne catch at third slip. Trouble was the batsman, unseen by Cooray, had hit the ball hard into the ground. The injustice of two for two was too much for Jayasuriya, who dashed his helmet to the ground as he left the field. Moments later, de Silva gloved to gully: 13 balls, three runs, three wickets. As the crowd struggled to catch breath, Atherton and Sangakkara clashed, Atherton wagging his finger first at the batsman, then seemingly at Koertzen. Order was somehow restored, but not to Sri Lanka's innings, which became a frenzy of coruscating boundaries and tumbling wickets. By the close, Croft, with his best Test spell in years, helped ensure Sri Lanka were effectively eight for six. The match, surely, would be England's next morning.
But one player transmuted anger into gold. Leading a magnificent fightback, Sangakkara, aided by Dharmasena, punished anything loose. Though he should have been stumped the previous evening when 34, he played quite beautifully. Just before lunch, a precious maiden Test hundred was in sight. The lead was 91, and an unlikely home victory was beginning to take shape. Croft and Hussain, however, saw their chance. The captain pushed back the fielder at mid-on; the bowler tossed the ball up; Sangakkara went for glory and the initiative was back with England. Even so, the recovery continued into the afternoon before the new ball worked its magic again. Gough finished with eight wickets in the match.
England needed a tricky 161. In his fourth over, Vaas removed Atherton (for the fourth time) and Trescothick, before Hussain and Thorpe put on a nerve-steadying 61. Yet both were gone by stumps, leaving the last day exquisitely poised: 70 runs or six wickets for victory.
England probably had the edge if the tail was not exposed to Murali too soon. Stewart went early, handing Hick perhaps a final chance to rekindle the dying embers of a tortured Test career. The flame flickered briefly as a couple of balls sped to the boundary, then quietly, sadly went out. Wickets and runs came at perfect intervals to keep both teams' hopes alive, but Croft, White and then Giles kept admirably cool heads to weather the final storm.
Man of the Match: D. Gough.