Those present in the tension-racked Asgiriya Stadium will never forget this Test Match. Although it was marred by umpiring controversy - the scale of which has not been witnessed since the Shakoor Rana affair in 1987 - and deep-seated acrimony between the two sides, the spectators witnessed five days of compelling cricket, culminating in a nerve-racking finale.
White and Giles at the victory momentPhoto CricInfo
England emerged victorious at 1.31pm as Craig White forced a short ball from the Sri Lankan captain, Sanath Jaysuriya, through the off side and lifted his arms in triumph. Required to score 70 runs today, England lost three wickets in the morning session before Ashley Giles joined White and the pair added 19 runs to seal the match.
The game tossed and turned throughout the five days. Just when one side looked to have grabbed the initiative, the other lifted themselves from the ground for a valiant fightback. England thrust first with four Sri Lankan wickets on the first morning, then Jayawardene and Arnold rescued the innings with a 141 partnership.
Looking down the barrel of an imposing Sri Lanka total, Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick grabbed the new ball and tore through the Sri Lankan batting, taking five wickets for 20 runs.
Sri Lanka re-imposed themselves, dismissing both English openers early on, to leave the stage set for Hussain's first century in any form of cricket for 15 months. Another late-evening collapse looked certain to provide a meagre first innings lead at best, but an 87-run partnership between Stewart and White and a crucial 40-run stand for the last wicket gave England a 90-run lead.
Man of the Match GoughPhoto CricInfo
Gough, who deservedly won the man of the match for his eight wickets, then ripped into the top order and Sri Lanka looked dead and buried on 88 for six. But, on the fourth day they fought themselves back into the game, eventually posting a tricky 161 target for England.
When Sri Lanka grabbed four wickets last night, both sides knew they could win. It turned out to be a short day, but boy, was it a tense one? England began with their noses ahead and kept the initiative throughout, although Sri Lanka kept clawing their way back into the game whenever they looked like sinking.
Alec Stewart and Robert Croft survived six overs this morning, adding just six runs, before Stewart became the latest victim of umpiring controversy, as he was adjudged leg before wicket by B.C. Cooray, the poorest of the two umpires. It was the third time in four innings that he has been triggered.
Graeme Hick strode to the crease under immense pressure, not just from the match situation, but because his place in the side was one again in jeopardy after 11 runs from three innings. He started nervously and should have been caught by Sangakkara when he had made just three. His escape allowed him to stroke two precious boundaries and add 25 runs with Croft, but he failed to safeguard his place for Colombo, as he was bowled lamely while pushing diffidently through the offside.
The fall of Hick was no great disaster for it brought Craig White to the wicket. The Sri Lankans felt before he was the danger man and he proved to be so, scoring a cool-headed 21. He blunted Muralitharan with the sweep and frustrated the Sri Lankans by scampering regular singles and adding 25 runs with Croft, before the nightwatchman, who had batted nearly two hours for his crucial 17 runs, missed a straight ball from Dharmasena and was lbw.
Ashley Giles could have been dismissed three times in his first over against the beguiling Muralitharan. White too survived numerous appeals from the desperate close fielders. Somehow the pair survived and when the target was reduced to single figures, the burden seemed to lift visibly from their shoulders. An edge past the gloves of Sangakkara for four finally broke the Sri Lankans and paved the way for White's match winning square cut two overs later.
England now travel to Colombo, the series all square, with the tantalising prospect of winning their fourth series on the trot at the Sinhalese Sports Club in four days' time.