The final act was played out between two former team-mates as Andrew Flintoff tried to fire out Muttiah Muralitharan and leave England with a tantalising target. After Matthew Hoggard had ended Kulasekara's outstanding 64, Flintoff sent a fierce delivery down to Muralitharan which rapped him on the gloves. The umpires offered the light and six vital overs were lost. When play resumed Muralitharan blocked 15 more deliveries with all he could muster and England's last chance went when, quite aptly, Paul Collingwood spilled Vaas - their ninth miss of the match - in the gully. That would have left them with 24 overs to chase 170.
England took two wickets during a shortened morning session and were expected to finally end Sri Lanka's resistance, which had started on Saturday afternoon after being asked to follow-on. However, Vaas and Kulasekara withstood everything that Flintoff threw at them for the next 45.3 overs and the impossible became possible. Kulasekara also benefited from being missed, on 14, when Alastair Cook fluffed the chance at gully early in the afternoon session. England would have had ample time to claim the final wicket and knock off the target but with each over Kulasekara batted Sri Lanka nudged closer.
When England enforced the follow-on nobody expected them to need a third new ball; even this was repelled by the lower-order. Panesar was introduced with a relatively hard ball and Kulasekara twice lofted him over midwicket, the second of which brought up a maiden Test fifty off 92 balls and also carried Sri Lanka past 500. In the first innings Kulasekara's 29 was nothing more than an annoyance, his second effort turned into one of the more memorable rearguards and the highest score by a Sri Lankan No. 10
Vaas used all his experience and was as comfortable in the middle as any of the top order, with a solid defence proving unbreakable by the England attack. He didn't entirely block for his life, launching into a couple of handsome pulls as he realised the importance of extending the lead. With the penultimate ball of the match he flicked Hoggard to fine leg to bring up the most valuable of his 10 half-centuries.
Flintoff, England's safest catcher, also caught the dropping disease during the morning when he shelled Chamara Kapugedera. He ensured it wasn't the costliest of mistakes by removing the same batsman shortly afterwards - a dismissal that gave Geriant Jones his 100th dismissal in Tests. Tillakaratne Dilshan proved tough to break before Liam Plunkett finally got some reward, for a bowling performance that has improved throughout the match, when he nibbled at a good length ball and a slip catch was finally taken. With the last frontline batsman out of the way England were expected to complete the job but it was a long while until they managed another wicket.
Hoggard finally removed Kulasekara but crucially the batsmen crossed meaning he couldn't bowl to Muralitharan. Flintoff had one ball at him, but opted to go into the body rather than aim at the stumps. A wide-eyed Muralitharan took a painful blow on the finger and the Sri Lankan dressing room was waving the batsmen off. By then England were realising that the win, which had appeared so certain a little over two days ago, was going to elude them.
Chamara Kapugedera c Jones b Flintoff 10 (405 for 7)
Gloved a pull, looping catch
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Trescothick b Plunkett 69 (421 for 8)
Straightforward edge to good length ball
Nuwan Kulasekara c Pietersen b Hoggard 64 (526 for 9)
Pulled to deep square-leg
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo