Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: D. Hettiarachchi.
Hard on the heels of Kandy's five-day classic came a three-day thriller at Colombo. On an astounding third day, 22 wickets fell for 229 runs - including ten Sri Lankans for 81 - to give England the series 2-1. True, they made a meal of hitting the required 74, but after losing the First Test by an innings it was a magnificent recovery. It wasn't just the Sri Lankans they overcame; the sun beat down remorselessly, and Thorpe said he had never played in such draining conditions. To widespread relief, the umpiring was of a high standard, and local official Asoka de Silva drew universal praise. With better umpiring came better behaviour, and the referee was invisible.
The case for Hick's replacement by Vaughan was now irresistible. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, recalled Fernando for Zoysa, and dropped Dharmasena, who had batted memorably but bowled forgettably. In came debutant Dinuka Hettiarachchi, whose left-arm spin had troubled England early on the tour. For the third time running - and the 17th in 21 Tests as captain - Jayasuriya won the toss. With the ball inevitably turning more as the game wore on, it made England's achievement the more outstanding.
In the second over, Caddick removed Atapattu with a beauty that pitched on leg and hit middle and off - Sri Lanka's sole setback of the morning, as Sangakkara played pace and spin with assured technique. Immediately after lunch, Gough struck him with a bouncer, then had him recoiling from a vicious, rising delivery; unnerved, Sangakkara spooned the next to cover. Jayasuriya quickly followed, but steady batting from de Silva and Jayawardene raised 200 halfway through the evening session.
Umpire Orchard may have erred in giving de Silva out - replays could not determine whether the ball brushed bat en route to silly mid-off - but here such controversies were the exception. The subsequent flurry of wickets renewed English hearts after a sweltering day in the field. By the close, Arnold had exited, offering no shot to Giles, and Croft had removed Dilshan and Jayawardene, whose elegant 71 featured several sweet shots off his legs. Next morning, Croft claimed a fourth victim before the new ball accounted for the tail, Caddick collecting his 150th Test wicket. Sri Lanka lost their last seven for 36.
Atherton walloped three fours in Vaas's second over, but the lbw Vaas later won was more typical of their contest in this series: six innings, five dismissals. Trescothick then provided Hettiarachchi's first Test wicket in bizarre circumstances. As he cracked a ball to leg, everyone followed the trajectory toward the boundary, only to discover it had lodged in the billowing material of Arnold's loose-fitting shirt at short leg. Hussain's was a brief, unhappy innings. After exacerbating a thigh injury he had picked up fielding - it ruled him out of the one-day series - he became Hettiarachchi's second victim, and England were 91 for four.
In the final session, Thorpe and Vaughan, playing his first innings for a month, advanced to 175 - 66 behind with six wickets intact - displaying stamina, patience and concentration, especially against Muralitharan's extravagant turn. A wet patch on the wicket caused a half-hour delay next morning, and in the chatter that wiled away the time, some considered a draw the likely outcome. No one thought the game would finish that evening.
Vaas quickly set the tone for the day, cajoling Vaughan and White to nibble at successive wide deliveries. Giles just averted the hat-trick, but went in near-identical fashion, giving Vaas three for one from 16 balls; he ended with a career-best six for 73. England's poor morning would have turned calamitous had Orchard noticed Thorpe edge Murali to silly point via his pad. Thorpe also ran out Croft for a solid 16 but, those errors aside, his eighth Test hundred was an innings of great maturity. It confirmed his arrival as a world-class batsman, as prepared to counter-attack as dig in, composed against spin or pace.
England's day had begun as it would end: with 74 runs for six wickets. They led by eight but, with the pitch offering increasing spin and bounce, Sri Lanka were better placed. Or so it seemed. Fortunes were about to change in startling fashion. Bowling with guile and aggression, Gough and Caddick made quick, deep cuts. Atapattu began the series with a double-hundred; he finished with a double duck. Sangakkara and Jayasuriya soon followed. De Silva, having pulled Caddick for two fours off three deliveries, went for a third, was deceived by his rare slower ball and caught at square leg. The middle order caved in and, shortly after tea, Muralitharan, declining to take guard, was lbw attempting an audacious reverse sweep. In just 28.1 overs, Sri Lanka were out for 81, their second-lowest Test total. England, who had not dismissed a team for less than 100 in 20 years, had now done so four times in ten months. Giles had rediscovered his Pakistan form, while Croft confounded critics with an extended spell of flighted, varied off-spin. Their combined match figures were 11 for 144.
Still the third day had more to offer. On a wearing pitch, England got into a muddle chasing 74. Atherton finally survived Vaas, only to succumb to Fernando. At 43 for four, Sri Lanka had prised open an escape hatch. Thorpe slammed it shut with an undefeated 32, but not before Hussain, batting at No. 7 with a runner, became the final victim of the St Patrick's Day massacre. He was the eighth and last duck of the day, a record-equalling 11th for the match. "Bring on the Aussies!" sang the Barmy Army.
Man of the Match: G. P. Thorpe.
Man of the Series: D. Gough.