At Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo, December 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 2007. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debut: S. C. J. Broad.
There are thrilling Tests, matches where the momentum continually swings to and fro and the result is difficult to predict until the fifth day. Sadly, this was not one of them. A lifeless, grey pitch produced a similar game. The highlight for many, whether they were watching in Colombo or Clitheroe, came when rain caused its early abandonment.
Much of the cricket may have been instantly forgettable, but the Test did not pass without a couple of exceptional performances and a controversial incident. That Muralitharan claimed the 62nd five-wicket haul of his remarkable career in England's first-innings 351 came as no surprise. Muralitharan was invited to bowl by his captain when the Test was only 11 overs old, and bowled 48 of the next 116, changing ends five times. Many find it amazing that his right arm has not yet fallen off, such is the scale of his workload. What will Sri Lanka do when he retires?
Vandort, a tall, technically correct opener, played his best Test innings to date, bringing up his fourth hundred, and second against England, when he cut Pietersen's occasional off-spin for two. Like most tall men he is an excellent driver, but he coped well with a barrage of short-pitched bowling sent down by a rejuvenated Harmison, who returned to England's side alongside the debutant Stuart Broad.
Though Vandort's batting was pleasant to watch, it was Mahela Jayawardene's 195 that caught the eye and set up a first-innings lead of 197. He walked out to bat following a rare failure by Sangakkara, who was caught behind off the bowling of Sidebottom, raising England's spirits. They held high hopes of dismissing Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's other world-class batsman, before he became acclimatised. He played and missed at a couple of deliveries, but was soon lining the ball up beautifully. Of all his qualities as a batsman, it is his placement, against pace or spin, that stands out. When the seamers over-pitched, he pierced the covers; when they were short and outside off stump, he deliberately cut the ball up and over the slips for four.
His dexterity is best seen against spin. When he plays defensively the ball dies at his feet, as though his bat is a feather pillow. But he has a sharp eye and reads the length of the ball in a flash. Quick feet allow him to get into position, and the ball is deftly placed where a fielder is not. The contest between Jayawardene and Panesar was akin to a kitten playing with a mouse.
Jayawardene broke two records during almost ten hours at the crease. On passing 110, he became Sri Lanka's highest run-scorer in Test cricket, overtaking the justretired Sanath Jayasuriya's 6,973. Then, as he went past 150 with a lofted six off Panesar, he reached 2,019 at the Sinhalese Sports Club, a record for Test runs on one particular ground, beating Graham Gooch's 2,015 runs at Lord's.
England's bowlers worked hard, especially the seamers, with Harmison the pick. Panesar again made scant impression, however. The pitch offered his spin little assistance, but he was unable to provide the control or cutting edge his captain wanted. The speed gun showed him plugging away at 53 to 55mph, a predictable approach that good batsmen are happy to face. The Sri Lankans played him superbly, hitting him over the top early on, then taking comfortable singles to fielders positioned in the deep. It was only when he began bowling over the wicket, at the legs of Jayawardene and Silva, that he began to deliver maidens, the lifeblood of a spinner.
It is not the batting of Jayawardene or Vandort, nor the bowling of Muralitharan, that the Test will be remembered for most; it will be the dismissal of Pietersen, controversially caught at slip on the first day, once more raising the issue of whether technology should be used to decide if a batsman is out or not.
Vaughan and Cook had provided England's first century opening partnership in 15 Tests (they were to follow up with another to guide their side towards the draw on the final day). For 39 overs, it was the visitors who were in charge, racing along at three and a half runs an over. But the chance dismissal of Vaughan, caught when short leg somehow trapped a flick off the hips between his legs, changed the emphasis of the innings. Bell, criticised for the way he got out in Kandy, was rendered shotless, scoring 15 off 62 balls, as he and Cook added 35 runs in 20 overs. England never got their momentum back, and their best chance of doing so disappeared with Pietersen, who left Prior to score 79 of the last 114 runs.
Pietersen drove loosely at the fifth ball he faced, from Vaas; at second slip, Silva dived to his left, but never had the ball under complete control. It popped up at the exact moment his left hand touched the ground, and he juggled with it twice before Sangakkara swooped from first slip to scoop it up.
There was no doubt about the validity of Sangakkara's catch, or what happened to the ball after it had popped up. However it was impossible to tell whether it had touched the ground before, as Silva's hand moved under it. Television replays suggested that the ball had made contact with the turf, but two-dimensional images of a threedimensional act are often unreliable; there is no depth to the picture, and the downward view from cameras on a gantry often makes it appear as though the ball has touched the ground when it has not.
The umpires, Daryl Harper and Aleem Dar, could have referred the decision to the third official, who had technology to aid his decision-making. But they chose not to. Umpires are encouraged to avoid these referrals, because most of them result in a "not out" verdict, and here they were probably right: had Silva's fingers not been under the ball, he could not have flicked it up, so the ball was unlikely to have made contact with the ground.
A more worrying sight was that of Pietersen, after being given out, getting to within ten yards of the boundary, hearing the disapproving reaction of the English fans in the crowd, stopping and then returning to question the decision. In similar circumstances a few months before, in the Lord's Test against India, Pietersen had been called back after being given out. Before the ICC began testing technology and sending dismissals back to a third umpire, batsmen knew there was no way back, and they had to go.
Man of the Match: D. P. M. D. Jayawardene.